With a startling demonstration of precocity, ferocity and velocity, 26-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov made his Baltimore recital debut Sunday evening for the Shriver Hall Concert Series.
At the very least, he left no doubt about his formidable technique, which sounded as pristine at the end of an unusually long, demanding program as at the start. It's a rare and disarming thing to hear such unflappable command at the keyboard.
At top speed — and Trifonov did a lot of wonderful speeding — he retained clarity of articulation. At top volume, he somehow managed to avoid brittle banging.
But for all of the razzle-dazzle, which reached a peak in a sensational account of Stravinsky's Three Movements from "Petrouchka," what proved even more impressive was Trifonov's poetic instincts. For the most part, he never stinted on subtlety, making room for fine gradations in dynamics and warm phrase-molding.
The one big exception to that thoughtful approach came midway through the recital's all-Schumann first half, when Trifonov tore into the Toccata. His caffeinated pace and thunderous sound sure made for fun listening, but, as some keyboard masters of yore (and not so yore) revealed, this kinetic score benefits greatly from applying nuance along the way.
That said, Trifonov's performances of the nostalgic "Kinderszenen" and split-personality "Kreisleriana" abounded in sensitive touches. His pianissimo playing proved exquisite, creating an intimacy that contrasted all the more compellingly with the drama in both pieces.
After intermission, the focus turned to Russian music. Trifonov chose five of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues and revealed an affinity for their rich layers of mood and meaning.
The pianist's gorgeous phrasing in the almost gauzy A major Fugue and D major Prelude were major highlights; notable, too, was the gentle way he handled the many repeated notes in the D major Fugue.
Trifonov brought out the symphonic weight of the D minor Fugue with particular expressive power. In similar fashion, the pianist summoned an orchestra's worth of tone coloring in the Stravinsky pieces.
After nearly two and a half hours, Trifonov clearly still had energy to spare, which he put to radiant use in an encore — Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu — that summed up the pianist's uncanny resources of technical refinement and artistic depth.