A dazzling showcase for Daniil Trifonov's fantastic fingers – review

25-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov
25-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov performs this week at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh Credit: Deutsche Grammophon

Among many marvels of this recital was the chance to contemplate the beauty of Daniil Trifonov’s hands. Most great pianists develop fat, muscular, bunch-of-banana fingers, but those of the prodigious 25-year-old Russian, inundated with superlatives since he took gold in the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011, are exquisitely long and slender. Given the fearsome work-out they must receive daily, this seems worthy of note – the instrumentalist’s equivalent of a star ballerina’s willowy legs.

The phenomenon was particularly evident in the first item on his programme: Brahms’s one–hand arrangement of the Chaconne from Bach’s D minor violin Partita. As Trifonov’s left engine did Trojan work on the keyboard, his right rested elegantly on his thigh, as if quietly waiting its turn. But there was no sense of confinement: five fingers were enough to make majestic musical architecture, building a grand arch across the piece, as Bach’s noble baroque austerity met Brahms’s enriched classical sensibility. 

Next came Liszt’s six Grandes Etudes, based on Paganini’s violin caprices. The right hand was still held in check here, as the set opens with some spectacular left-handed flourishes, but Trifonov was soon firing on all 10 cylinders, exuberantly ringing the cascading carillons of  “La Campanella” before sprinkling playful wit and scintillating delicacy over the subsequent firefly sketches. This may be Liszt at his toshiest and windiest, but who cares when Trifonov is whipping up the confection? As a showcase for his technique and range, it was simply dazzling. 

Credit: Dario Acosta/Deutsche Grammophon

After the interval came Rachmaninov’s first sonata – a piece long overshadowed by its much more familiar and coherent successor. Distantly inspired by the three major characters of Goethe’s Faust, it suffers from a diffuse first movement and a tendency to sag under the weight of its own rhetoric when it should be moving confidently forward. 

But again Trifonov could transcend these shortcomings. The turbulent soul-searching of Faust, the enchanting tendresse of Gretchen, the manic intensity of Mephistopheles were all vividly evoked in playing of extraordinary imaginative daring and unimaginable physical dexterity. 

An annual visitor to the Edinburgh International Festival since 2012, Trifonov was rewarded by a rapt and appreciative audience. Although the programme was in truth rather over-stuffed with notes – following Liszt with Rachmaninov is a recipe for  indigestion – one hopefully awaits the return of this brilliant young master next year with a more palatably astringent menu. 

Daniil Trifonov plays with the Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra at the Usher Hall on Friday and at the Queen’s Hall on Monday. Tickets: 0131 473 2000; eif.co.uk