It has often been pointed out that a competition victory does not mean as much these days as it once did. Or more precisely, that a big win does not necessarily launch a solo career. Then again, when you pick up three wins in a single year, and have backers like the Russian dynamo Valery Gergiev, people start to notice.
That is the case with Daniil Trifonov, the young Russian pianist debuting this week with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Trifonov placed third at the Chopin Competition in Warsaw, first at the Rubinstein in Tel Aviv, and first in the famed Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Now he’s a hot property, making the rounds to most of the major orchestras and releasing his first recordings.
On Thursday night he brought with him the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1, a piece that suits him well. As is clear from just a few bars of his playing, Trifonov has a brilliant streamlined technique and the impulse to forge a distinctly personal interpretation. His immense granitic chords and the bold profile he gave to some of the work’s most popular tunes seemed to nod to older, grandly muscular Russian styles of pianism. Yet the next moment, the playing could turn inward and ruminative, as Trifonov deployed a kind of weightless feline passagework. He also projected the adrenaline and verve of a natural performer. What I missed Thursday was a deeper sense of inner musical compass welding this reading’s striking episodes into a unified poetic statement. One imagines it will come. After the Tchaikovsky, Trifonov quieted the cheering crowd by floating out a handsomely voiced account of the Schumann-Liszt “Widmung.”
The Costa Rican conductor Giancarlo Guerrero was on the podium, opening the evening with Roberto Sierra’s “Fandangos,” a festive and approachable curtain-raiser that shows off the orchestra to great effect. Sierra proudly embraces the traditional Spanish dance form, which here is just lightly modernized, splashed with other Latin sounds, and on occasion playfully smeared with dissonance. Guerrero led a zesty and colorful reading.
After intermission came Prokofiev’s wartime Fifth Symphony. The orchestra played strongly for Guerrero, whose visceral, full-body conducting style worked to greatest effect in the closing movement. There was, however, little that was comparable to the razor-sharp detailing and potency of sound that Vladimir Jurowski recently brought to roughly contemporaneous repertoire.