Daniil Trifonov’s latest Deutsche Grammophon album captures the magic of Chopin’s music and traces its influence through the works of five other composers. Chopin Evocations, set for international release on 6 October 2017, presents two and a half hours of music performed by today’s top young classical pianist. Trifonov, the current Gramophone Artist of the Year, offers Chopin’s two piano concertos and a selection of some of his earliest and latest solo works together with tributes to him by Grieg, Mompou, Schumann, Tchaikovsky and Barber. The double-disc set includes a collaboration with Trifonov’s fellow pianist-composer Mikhail Pletnev, who conducts the Mahler Chamber Orchestra in his freshly re-orchestrated editions of Chopin’s piano concertos. Trifonov will perform some of these works during his 2017-18 tour of Europe and North America.
Daniil Trifonov first came into contact with Chopin’s music while studying at Moscow’s Gnessin Music School, Russia’s leading school for prodigiously talented children, and went on to develop his interpretations under the care of Sergei Babayan at the Cleveland Institute of Music. “Chopin is one of the world’s most beloved composers – the poetry of his music goes straight to the heart and requires no justification,” the pianist observes. “But in a sense, the genius of Chopin becomes even more clear in the context of those who influenced him and those who have been inspired by him.”
In embracing pieces by some of those inspired by the composer’s artistic legacy, Chopin Evocations spans more than a century of music history. The album ranges from the dream-like meditation of “Chopin” from Schumann’s Carnaval to the virtuoso fireworks of Grieg’s Etude Op. 73 No. 5 (Hommage ŕ Chopin) and Chopin’s own Rondo in C major for two pianos Op. 73, the latter recorded with Trifonov’s teacher and regular duo partner, Sergei Babayan. Trifonov chose to record the solo piano version of Chopin’s early Variations on “Lŕ ci darem la mano” Op. 2, the work that prompted Schumann to declare, “Hats off, gentlemen! A genius!” The album closes with the celebrated Fantaisie-Impromptu Op. 66.
Trifonov was recently hailed by Alex Ross in The New Yorker for the rare attributes that set him apart from mere mortals of the keyboard world: “monstrous technique and lustrous tone”. Those qualities, present in abundance throughout Chopin Evocations, are ideally employed in the interpretation of Federico Mompou’s Variations on a Theme of Chopin. The Catalan composer’s score is based on Chopin’s Prelude in A major Op. 28 No. 7, and its tenth variation, “Evocation” – which quotes a haunting melody from the Fantaisie-Impromptu – lends its name to this new album. “Mompou meditates upon the simplest Chopin melody,” observes Trifonov. “He explores each aspect of its rhythmic, harmonic and expressive potential, in relation to itself and in relation to Chopin’s overall musical significance.” The spirit of exploration drove Trifonov to set Chopin within the wider context of compositions inspired by his music. The pianist’s preparation process involved detailed study of works new to his repertoire, including the Barber, Grieg and Mompou pieces, and allowed time for him to form profound connections with each of them.
Before signing as an exclusive Deutsche Grammophon artist in 2013, Daniil Trifonov recorded Chopin’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor in a version for piano and string orchestra. He returned to the work for Chopin Evocations and decided to couple it with its earlier companion piece, published as the Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor. Trifonov’s new album offers the world premiere recordings of both concertos in Mikhail Pletnev’s orchestrations. The partnership between Trifonov and Grammy Award-winner Pletnev grew from their shared experiences. They both won Moscow’s International Tchaikovsky Competition at the age of 21, while Pletnev taught Trifonov’s teacher, Sergei Babayan in the early 1980s. “That makes him a bit like my musical forefather,” notes Trifonov.
Mikhail Pletnev addressed the notorious problems of instrumental balance and coherence in the published scores of Chopin’s piano concertos. He sought to create greater clarity and bring a chamber-like feel to their instrumentation. The results, as conveyed here by the dynamic and responsive playing of the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, are transformative. “The new orchestral transparency allows the pianist greater spontaneity and sensitive engagement with the other voices,” explains Trifonov. “The concertos are more massive in terms of length and instrumentation than anything else Chopin ever wrote. He knew and admired the piano concertos of Mozart and Beethoven, yet his interest in the form was not in the Classical balance between soloist and orchestra but in the concerto as a lyrical epic form, like a Delacroix painting, providing a huge tableau for his musical expression.”