Young Russian pianist wows audience at Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert

| Friday, Nov. 1, 2013, 10:58 p.m.

The way Daniil Trifonov walked on stage to open Friday night's Pittsburgh Symphony concert gave no hint of the amazing musical experience to come.

By the time he was done, his face was wet with perspiration, and the Heinz Hall audience was on its feet cheering.

Two years ago, the Russian pianist won prizes at three of music's most prestigious competitions. Now 22, he entered with no obvious ego or attitude beyond eagerness to get to the keyboard. Once there, he was transformed.

Trifonov, guest conductor Yan Pascal Tortelier and the orchestra played Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2 to open what was a great concert from start to finish.

From the soloist's first notes, his command of sonority and atmosphere were obvious. As the piece unfolded, his projection of the expressive arc of the whole form was fully convicing, which is not easy in this concerto. A lyrical passage near the end of the finale was remarkable for its sense of growing inner fulfillment.

Trifonov's technique is stunning. Both hands can be thunderous or play with gossamer delicacy. There were times when the power of his playing had the piano visibly shaking, but the keys also popped for him.

The musical force in Trifonov is so strong that every kind of music in the concerto seemed to emerge from within, but to say the music burst out would miss the precision and control with which he shaped it.

His encore was “Alborada del gracisioso” by Maurice Ravel, originally for piano but far more famous in the composer's orchestra. Trifonov had the keys popping again in the propulsive outer sections. The jester's song in the middle of the piece, which is played by bassoon in the orchestral version, stood out with individuality.

Tortelier's passionate account of Sergei Rachmanioff's Symphony No. 2 after intermission should have been no surprise given the romantic version he did here of the Symphony No. 1 by Jan Sibelius. After the hard edges of the Prokofiev, the orchestra reveled in the Rachmaninoff's sumptuous sound, guided by Tortelier's knowing ear for musical balance and sonority.

Among numerous excellent orchestral solos, the most outstanding was the sensitivity of Michael Rusinek playing the big clarinet melody in the third movement.

This concert will be repeated at 8 p.m. Saturday and 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $109.75. Details: 412-392-4900 or

Mark Kanny is classical music critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.


Show commenting policy