As a prelude to its 2011-12 Barbican Hall season, the London Symphony Orchestra and Valery Gergiev showcased three of the five Prize Winners from the latest International Tchaikovsky Competition.
Following a full-on and stately ‘Polonaise’ – with pulsing tread, lovely interaction in the strings (not least between antiphonal violins) and with echt-Tchaikovskian melancholy in the trio – Eugene Onegin continued with the ‘Letter Scene’, introducing Sunyoung Soo as Tatiana. The character’s palpitating urgency was caught well, but Sunyoung Soo could be a little hasty and approximate at times, yet her fine-sounding top register shone out, so too her generous nature as a performer. If her Tatiana is not yet a fully-fledged portrayal (the ‘opera’ was more to be found in the orchestra under Gergiev’s seasoned direction than in the singer), she has the makings of a diva, and was able to reveal greater feelings in the scena
’s most heartfelt and imploring section, aided by eloquent horn and woodwinds.
Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations was performed in Wilhelm Fitzenhagen’s revision – not that the programme-book disclosed this or that the composer's original version has been returned to favour in recent years. Following a notably rapt opening from the LSO, the music hugged, Narek Hakhnazaryan entered with an attractively plangent tone, one with an underlying burnish, walnut rather than mahogany. The slower numbers dragged, though, and the cadenzas seemed too many, but Hakhnazaryan’s phrasing was easeful, his intonation flawless (not least in the cello's highest register), and he dealt with the fiendish writing of the final section with Rostropovich-like tenacity. Currently, Hakhnazaryan would surely make a memorable job of J. S. Bach’s unaccompanied Suites and Robert Schumann’s Concerto.
With the famous opening to the B flat minor Piano Concerto, Daniil Trifonov over-forced his preliminary uninteresting, accompanying chords; heavily pedalled, too. If an impish change of dynamic and speed therein did not convince, it was quite clear that a real character was not so much playing the piano but was a part of it, his face nearly as close to the keys as his hands needed to be. Trifonov is a quixotic musician, attack-minded and dissolving (and most of the gamut in between), exploiting a wide range of volume and touch, if not so vivid with colour; interpretatively capricious too, and close to indulgent on occasions, but he’s certainly compelling and his fingers are remarkably fleet, the notes unfailingly clear even at the motorway speeds. By contrast it was country lanes at Christmas during the slow movement, intimate and pictorial, enhanced by silvery flute, reedy oboe, opulent cello and golden horn, the fantastical middle section not only daringly fleet but quicksilver too, Trifonov’s prestidigitation phenomenal. He’s a bit of a chameleon, though, for passages in the finale were unduly analysed, but he enjoyed the never-failing power, passion and sympathy of Gergiev and the LSO. Trifonov was in many ways sensational, in love with the piano and everything he can do with it. Trifonov's encore, ‘La campanella’ (one of Liszt’s Paganini Etudes), showed the pianist's strengths and weaknesses; delicate, even-handed (no pun) and remarkably crystalline, delightfully extemporised, but he was unable to resist becoming too fast and too loud by the end. Make no mistake, though, Daniil Trifonov is one hell of a talent.