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Review: Trifonov shines alongside masters in Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra performance

| Friday, Sept. 18, 2015, 11:39 p.m.

Bold in concept and performance, the opening concert of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra's classical subscription series was a resounding success Friday night in Heinz Hall.

While the evening included popular pieces by Felix Mendelssohn and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the heart of the program was a lengthy Piano Concerto written in 2014 by 24-year-old virtuoso Daniil Trifonov. His local debut in November 2013, playing Sergei Prokofiev's Piano Concerto No. 2, established beyond any doubt not only his exceptional technique but his incredible intensity and expressive command.

Now we know he's a composer to be reckoned with as well. His lengthy Piano Concerto is in three movements and establishes itself as compelling right from the opening measure. Trifonov's composition conjures many worlds of feeling and imagination, which he controls with sure continuity and transitions.

One can hear many composers he loves in the music he writes, but then in Ludwig van Beethoven's music you can hear that he loved Franz Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

What matters is that Trifonov's concerto is riveting throughout. His piece requires transcendental technique, and if Sergei Rachmaninoff's music, or Prokofiev's music, expresses similar emotions for a moment, the line of expression is Trifonov's, and he goes many places that others have not gone before.

Music director Manfred Honeck and the orchestra provided eloquent support.

Trifonov's concerto came after intermission. The first piece, Felix Mendelssohn's “Italian Symphony,” leapt off the stage. Honeck led a particularly high-energy account of the opening movement. The tempo was very fast, too fast for some aspects of the music to emerge clearly. But Honeck's pacing was driven by mood, not a metronome, and the performance was irresistible. The conductor wisely repeated the first section of the first movement, as the composer intended.

The middle movements, a pilgrim's procession and a romantic minuet, were well paced.

Mendelssohn's finale, with its tarantella rhythms, was an intensification of the first movement's drive. While there was some loss of detail and scrambling for accuracy, there was excitement and a powerful conclusion, which brought the audience to its feet.

The concert concluded with Tchaikovsky's “Capriccio Italien.”

This concert will be repeated at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in Heinz Hall, Downtown. Admission is $20 to $94. Details: 412-392-4900 or

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

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