I first became a fan of Liszt's piano music in 2011 when I made a rather insane trip in the middle of my annual Edinburgh visit to hear Louis Lortie play the complete Annees de Pelerinage at the Snape Maltings. It was an unforgettable performance. In recent times though, thanks to regular visits from the talented Daniil Trifonov, Edinburgh has also been lucky enough to hear some superb Liszt. A particular highlight was Trifonov's Queen's Hall recital in 2014 when he gave an outstanding account of the complete Transcendental Etudes. This year he was upgraded to the Usher Hall for a recital of Bach's Chaconne (arranged for piano left hand by Brahms), Liszt's Grandes etudes de Paganini and Rachmaninov's Piano Sonata No.1. It proved to be one of the highlights so far of Festival 2016.
The Bach/Brahms opener is in part a striking technical challenge. Closing my eyes it was hard to imagine that the intricate sequences and often rich timbres were being produced with only one hand. Occasionally, individual progressions could feel a little over-laboured, I presume an effect of that technical limitation, but overall the effect became remarkably gripping. Brahms's transcription successfully brings out the range of Bach's dynamic, tonal, speed and chorale like effects and Trifonov captured them all. A fascinating occasional piece.
The highlight of the recital for me was the Liszt which follows. It isn't enough in Liszt just to be able to play all the notes. You have to be able to capture the dynamic range and poetic moods behind them. You also have to be able to have fun in places. Trifonov is a master of those skills and characters. The highlight was the bell imitations of La Campanella (I hope I've identified it correctly) but the whole sequence was one of those occasions when you just sit back and revel in the brilliance of an outstanding musician.
After the interval, we had the Rachmaninov. This is a bit of a mixed piece. It feels in various places as if it could have done with a bit more trimming and shaping. But there is also plenty of drama and, in the slow movement, emotional intensity and there was no question that Trifonov once again performed it to the highest standard to make the strongest case for it and it was certainly interesting to hear it live, though I'm not sure I would rush to hear it too often. As a whole programme it was also notable how well these three works complimented each other allowing appreciation of commonalities of mood and style - again not always guaranteed in recitals.
It was good to hear the warmth of the audience reception and we were rewarded with two encores – I thought the first might have been more Bach, or possibly Scarlatti, I was unable to identify the second. The programme notes that Trifonov has appeared at the Festival every year since 2012 – long may this continue. I'm hoping that next time we might have some of the Liszt opera transcriptions or even one of his Beethoven Symphony transcriptions – works I've always been curious to hear live. In the meantime you can still catch him this Festival in Beethoven's Piano Concert No.1 at the Usher Hall tomorrow (with Daniel Harding & the Swedish RSO) and in more Rachmaninov (chamber music this time) at the Queen's Hall on Monday.