Daniil Trifonov at the Barbican, London, review: Pianist carries Simon Rattle and LSO into exuberant overdrive

The Barbican is building a series of concerts round the young Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov, and his talent deserves the accolade. For his first outing, he chooses to play Ravel’s sparkling G major piano concerto, and spins a fine haze of notes in the introduction before settling into the jazz-inflected Gershwin-esque main theme with laid-back authority. The first movement is airborne, the harp providing a golden dusting of sound to complement the piano’s clouds of trills, and the LSO supports the effects with violin glissandi and wood-wind wah-wahs.

I’ve always had a problem with the adagio of this work. Some critics find classical serenity in its ruminative trajectory, but I just sense hard slog: Ravel apparently struggled with it one bar at a time, and that’s how it comes over. A wayward and not particularly pleasing product of the intellect, rather than an effusion of instinct. Trifonov maintains a seraphic smile throughout, however, so he at least is a believer. As the live-wire powerhouse in the finale, he is in his element, carrying Simon Rattle and the orchestra along with him in exuberant overdrive.

But then, alas, comes his encore. Year after year he chooses works of his own composition to round off a performance, and year after year he dissipates his own magic with them. This time it’s his transcription of Rachmaninov’s Silver Bells, which seems to ramble aimlessly. Trifonov may be a wonderful pianist, but he’s not – or at least, not yet – a composer, or even a good arranger. Somebody should take him aside and point this out.

Showcasing the versatility of the LSO, the rest of this evening is pure pleasure. It begins with a sparky little suite dedicated to Rattle – when still in his Berlin Phil incarnation – by the Parisian composer Betsy Jolas; that sprightly 92-year-old hops up onto the podium to acknowledge the applause. Then came two classics: Poulenc’s Les Biches, evoking the sunlit, high-stepping Parisian Twenties, followed by Ravel’s La Valse, which satanically reflected the era’s dark underside.

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