How much do musical ghosts of the past haunt current performances?
The Piano Concerto No. 2 was recorded live by Deutsche Grammophon on Friday afternoon at the Kimmel Center. The Piano Concerto No. 3 follows Saturday and Sunday.
I've heard most Rachmaninoff concerto recordings out there, and on the basis of what I heard Friday, these aren't going to sound like any of the others. In a good way. Maybe in a great way.
Though Trifonov is a string-minded artist, he's having a solid interpretive progression with the Rachmaninoff concerto. Four years ago he played the opening with slow tempos and weighty sonorities. Rather gothic, in other words. Now, that passage is a tad lighter, with a stronger pulse and a greater sense of integration with what follows.
Rachmaninoff's own recordings tend to be matter-of-fact, only occasionally resorting to "broken chords" (spelling out a chord rather than playing all notes exactly at once). Trifonov broke chords far more often, creating a larger, more multi-faceted texture.
Tempos were sensible, but flexible enough to create the musical real estate Trifonov needed to find all manner of meaning in this ultra-expressive concerto. Yet he kept himself on a tight enough rein to not get lost in the woods.
In moments such as the orchestral introduction to the second movement, what can seem like Byronic melancholy had a much more current sense of conviction. Rachmaninoff suffered a nervous breakdown prior to this concerto, and you definitely hear that. But he was also a Russian aristocrat, and this performance made you hear that as well.
Experienced together, those qualities felt both inspiring and endearing. So while the Friday performance didn't take after Rachmaninoff's own, his created a high bar that was topped by all parties concerned.
He delighted in the often glossed-over cross rhythms in the piece, and had a whale of a time driving the final movement faster than I'd ever heard it. However, the disparate thematic elements in the third and fourth movements co-existed more than they cohered.