Tuesday, October 3, 2017

DG to Release Trifonov’s “Chopin++” Album

 courtesy of Verve Label Group

This coming Friday (October 6) Deutsche Grammophon (DG) will release their latest album featuring Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov. This will be the latest addition to a series that has included not only solo piano performances, but also concertante work and chamber music. As usual, the album, which is entitled Chopin Evocations is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

This is a two-CD album in which each of the two CDs begins with one of the concertos by Frédéric Chopin. However, on each CD the concerto is followed by what may, for the most part, be called “latter-day influences” of Chopin on other composers. Those composers are Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Samuel Barber, and Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky on the first CD and Federico Mompou on the second. The first CD also includes two examples of early Chopin, the Opus 2 set of variations on the seduction duet “Là ci darem la mano” from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s K. 527 opera Don Giovanni and the posthumously published Opus 73 rondo in C major, composed in 1828. Chopin wrote this in versions for both one and two pianos; and Trifonov performs the latter with his former teacher, Sergei Babayan.

Two unique factors distinguish the concerto recordings. The first is that the ensemble is the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, which consists of only 45 players (who happen to be from twenty different nations) and therefore brings an intimacy of scale that is not always encountered when either of the two concertos is performed. The second is that conductor Mikhail Pletnev has prepared his own orchestrations for this group. Few would question that Chopin was far from his best in writing for orchestra, so this may be taken as an act of good intentions to present the contributions of the solo piano in a better light.

Given what we all know about good intentions, my personal opinion is that Pletnev has done an admirable, if not excellent, job. Both of the concertos are relatively early works, and they both entail significant departures from the shorter pieces that define Chopin’s comfort zone so well. Pletnev’s rearrangement of Chopin’s score evokes (to draw upon the album’s title) a more intimate context than we tend to find in most concert performances and recordings. Trifonov seems to be well aware of that intimacy and does an admirable job of reflecting it back into his solo passages. The same can be said of the other Chopin selections involving both solo and duo work. I feel it important to make this observation, since my early contact with Trifonov left me with the impression that he was all about bombast and little else.

Similar intimacy can be found in the work of those composers reflecting on Chopin. The most interesting of these is probably Barber’s Opus 33 nocturne, which is actually a homage to John Field. This short piece is rich with the composer’s characteristically angular approach to thematic exposition; but, at least through Trifonov’s execution, it never loses sight of the rhetorical stance associated with the early nineteenth century. I also must confess to having a great interest in the set of variations that Mompou wrote using the seventh (in A major) of Chopin’s Opus 28 preludes as a point of departure. Like Chopin, Mompou was most in his element when working on scales of short duration; so it is no surprise that he selected one of the shortest preludes in the set. As a result, the variations unfold as a sequence of miniatures; and, in many ways, they come off as more compelling than Chopin’s Mozart variations. There is also a clever sideways glance at Chopin’s Opus 66, which he called “Fantasie-Impromptu,” in the tenth variation. By way of response, Trifonov plays Opus 66 in its entirety after the Mompou selection.

The result is an album that provides us with new ways of listening to (and therefore thinking about) Chopin.

It is also worth noting that on October 25 Trifonov will be embarking on a six-city tour, which will involve selections from his new album. As was the case with George Li, whose new album was discussed yesterday, that tour will take him to San Francisco, where he will give a solo recital in the Great Performers series presented by the San Francisco Symphony (SFS) in Davies Symphony Hall. Trifonov’s tour will also include Ann Arbor, Michigan, New York, New York (like Li, at Carnegie Hall), Davis, California, Detroit, Michigan, and Washington, DC. Trifonov’s program will begin with five of the “evocation” tracks by other composers taken from his new album. Those composers will be, in order of presentation, Mompou, Schumann, Grieg, Barber, and Tchaikovsky. However, Mompou’s set of variations will be complemented by Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Opus 22 set of variations, which is also based on one of the shorter Opus 28 preludes, the twentieth in C minor. The program will conclude with Chopin’s Opus 35 (“Funeral March”) sonata in B-flat minor.

This concert will be given Monday, October 30, at 8 p.m. Ticket prices range from $36 to $109. They may be purchased online through the event page for this program on the SFS Web site, by calling 415-864-6000, or by visiting the Box Office in Davies Symphony Hall, whose entrance is on the south side of Grove Street between Van Ness Avenue and Franklin Street. Those planning to purchase online should know that the Web page provides an interactive seating chart to facilitate seat selection, but this chart requires that Flash be installed and activated. The Box Office is open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday.

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