Sergei Babayan, piano (Rondo for Two Pianos)
Mahler Chamber Orchestra
Mikhail Pletnev, conductor
Deutsche Grammophon, 2017
Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov already recorded twice Chopin’s Piano Concerto no. 1, with Valery Gergiev and the Mariinsky Orchestra in 2012 and with Wojciech Rajski and the Polish Chamber Orchestra Sopot in 2013, so that apparently there was no hurry to record it for the third time, but this choice is justified not only because the programme of the album Chopin Evocations offers the chance for a extensive journey through the world of the Polish pianist and his influence on his contemporaries, but also because the Piano Concerto, together with the Piano Concerto no. 2, are presented here in the new orchestration by Mikhail Pletnev that, as Trifonov points out in the booklet notes, «allows the pianist greater spontaneity and sensitive engagement with the other voices».
Chopin Evocation is a double disc album that can be divided into three parts. The first one comprises the Piano Concerto no. 2 and the Variations on “Là ci darem la mano” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni and this, together with Chopin’s Rondo for Two Pianos that you find at the beginning of the second disc, can be considered the liveliest part of the recording. The second part includes four works by Schumann, Grieg, Barber and Tchaikovsky which have been inspired by Chopin’s music and that are characterized by rather sombre, “nocturnal” colours. The last part is marked by more thoughtful feelings and includes the Piano Concerto no. 1, Mompou’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin and Chopin’s Impromptu no. 4.
Whatever piece you will decide to hear first, Trifonov’s technical command and sensitivity will be riveting. His imposing performance is characterized by fabulous colours and great insight. The spectacularity of the Piano Concerto no. 2, which is expressed by silvery cascades of glittering sounds and by superb virtuosic passages, is only one side of the coin, the most appealing perhaps, but definitely Trifonov’s artistry does not end here and the rendition of the reflective mood of the Piano Concerto no. 1 is, despite its introversion, equally remarkable and far more profound. In the two Concertos, moreover, Mikhail Pletnev’s conduction is determinant to create a tense, vibrant atmosphere that surrounds Trifonov’s playing and that is the perfect response to him.
As for Chopin’s Variations, it seems to me that their lavishness reveals more than the aims of Mozart’s rake, but that they express an incommensurable and irrepressible desire to live and to enjoy life in any possible way. These dazzling pieces are followed by the works inspired by Chopin to four composers and Trifonov performs each of them in a way that make them appear really as “evocations” of the momentarily and apparently absent composer.
The four works seem as many “notturni”. Nocturne, by the way, is the title of Barber’s piece, which is also the most gloomy among the four. It is interesting to hear to Schumann’s Chopin from Carnaval because it offers a pensive portrait of the composer. Mompou’s Variations on a Theme by Chopin and Chopin’s Impromptu tend in the same direction, but in the latter Trifonov expresses unrestrained and lyrical feelings through the luminous sounds of the piano.