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.

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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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