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Review: Three recitals make an impression

Harvey Steiman
Special to The Aspen Times

Daniil Trifoniv has come a long way since the boyish, studious, freshly minted winner of the Tchaikovsky Piano Competition made his Aspen debut in 2013. Now, with the long-haired bearded look of a graduate student, he strides to the piano, bows deeply and gets right to business. And some business it is.

From the first notes of Tuesday’s expansive recital in Harris Hall, the music that came out was arresting. He began with Brahms’ left-hand-only transcription of the chaconne from J.S. Bach’s D minor partita. If the opening chord clanged off the walls sharply, the intricate passage work, attention to dynamics, phrasing and rhythmic persuasiveness won over a rapt audience during its 15 minutes.

Trifonov’s strengths were evident. Unfazed by technical challenges, he drew big contrasts between muscled-up loud passages and delicate moments that maintained both pulse and musical thread. Dynamics morphed seamlessly, moods shifting like cinematic dissolves. His pace never indulged in show-off speed-ups or extra pauses. He communicated.

In Schubert’s Sonata No. 18 in G major, the meditative opening movement lived up to its tempo marking of “molto moderato e cantabile,” the pulse beating quietly and unrelentingly under a touch of pure silk in the quieter moments. Things gradually became more insistent in the third movement menuetto and finally burst into the light with a grand and expressive, quick-paced finale. The music making reached a high plane.

Showier works surrounded that centerpiece. For all the glitzy pianistic flourishes of Liszt’s “Grands études de Paganini,” the most captivating moment was “La campanella,” an insistent high chime tinkling deftly against flurries of fine-textured rapidity. If the bombastic brashness of Brahms’ “Variations on Theme of Paganini Book I” temporarily put subtlety on the shelf, two magical encores by the Russian composer and pianist Nicolai Medtner brought it back. “Alla reminiscenza” from the first series of “Forgotten Melodies” and “Tale in F minor” from the series of short works known as “Fairly Tales” were models of expressiveness with disarming simplicity.

Monday’s Percussion Ensemble concert honored several favorite composers of classical musicians who bang on things for a living, bringing their works to life with gusto. Kabelac’s “Eight Inventions,” from 1962, defined many elements that have become staples of percussion performance. Ginastera’s “Cantata para America magica,” from 1960, married the Argentine composer’s fondness for the raw energy of native South American music with evocative writing for dramatic soprano. Lauren Feider channeled an almost feral impulse in texts inspired by pre-Columbian cultures into passionate vocal expression. Wild intervals and jagged rhythms brought the concert to a high point as they eventually coalesce into a cry for peace.

The melodic side of percussion emerged in a quartet for two vibraphones and two marimbas by Joseph Pererira, principal timpanist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, who is teaching this summer in Aspen, and a piece for vibraphone solo by Ben Wahlund, a Chicago-area teacher and composer. The quartet explored the quiet, subtle side of percussion, and the solo dealt in contrasts between beauty and hard-edged steel. Soloist Joseph Brickler’s tour de force performance brought out the deftness in the music.

Thursday night’s American String Quartet recital found the regular visitors to Aspen in good form, especially in a gravity-defying performance of Beethoven’s String Quartet op. 59 no. 1. From the opening statement by cellist Wolfram Koessel to first violinist Peter Winograd’s clear-eyed lead throughout, this was a no-nonsense, focused, buoyant portrayal of one of the composer’s most beloved chamber works, not laden with extra portent but simply unfurled with fine attention to rhythm by violist Daniel Avshalomov and second violin Laurie Carney.

Buoyancy was in evidence in the opener, Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 1 in B-flat major, where the festival’s own busy violist, James Dunham, contributed extra depth. A short but quietly colorful quartet by George Tsontakis, his String Quartet 7.5 “Maverick,” completed a tasty evening.

NOT TO MISS IN THE COMING DAYS

Vladimir Feltsman explores Mussorgsky’s original solo piano version of “Pictures at an Exhibition” tonight in Harris Hall. Yefim Bronfman tackles the technically challenging (but musically wide-ranging) Piano Concerto No. 2 by Prokofiev on an Aspen Festival Orchestra program, with James Gaffigan conducting. The gorgeous string sextet from Richard Strauss’ opera Capriccio kicks off the final Monday night chamber music featuring festival faculty in the Benedict Music Tent.

Harvey Steiman has been writing about the Aspen Music Festival for 22 years. His reviews appear Tuesdays and Sundays in The Aspen Times.


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