The Philadelphia Orchestra played its final concert of the season Saturday night at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, but for the featured soloist, Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, it’s just the beginning of what promises to be a fabulous career.
Only 22, he’s become a young sensation, having won the Rubinstein and the Tchaikovsky competitions two years ago. It must be something of a culture shock for him to be debuting with the orchestra to perform for the first time Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Ten years or so ago, he was just a student in Moscow listening to the orchestra on a Russian tour.
Trifonov lived up to all the accolades. He played with big weighted chords, produced fiery streams of notes and sculpted beautiful melodies with a poetic and tender hand. What made his performance exceptional, though, was his ability to build excitement within a phrase. By using not only a wide range of dynamics, but also musically sensitive nuances with a warm tone, and giving the notes an agitated edge, the passages had an impetuosity that thrilled.
Trifonov was so exuberant that his hair flew and he’d lift himself off the piano bench at certain musical highpoints. The conductor, Cristian Macelaru, was a keen listener and followed Trifonov’s every phrase to make the orchestra more of a partner than just a support. Balances were exact.
The crowd roared its approval and got an encore: Schumann-Listz’s “Widmung” (“Liebeslied”). Trifonov sweetly sang the lovely melody before launching into a fiercely expansive but taut exposition, only to end quietly. The crowd loved that, too, and, in an unprecedented move, got another encore — the “Infernal Dance” from Stravinsky’s “The Firebird,” arranged by Guido Agosti — that blew everyone away, it was so electrifying. Trifonov was having fun for sure. He also played it faster than the orchestra does with its version.
Before the Rachmaninoff, the orchestra played Tchaikovsky’s Polonaise from his opera “Eugene Onegin” with a majestic, festive and stylish manner. After intermission, Macelaru did a superb job with Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances,” which was colorful and vibrant. The orchestra sounded brilliant.
To close it out, the orchestra, assisted by a cannon, played the traditional Tchaikovsky “Solemn Overture, 1812,” much to the huge audience’s delight. Although the work is done so often the musicians could probably play it in their sleep, they gave all the notes serious consideration. A lengthy fireworks display entertained and drew whistles and cheers.