Trifonov has already established himself as a leading pianist of our generation and this release has been met with some great reviews. What we have here is an arrangement of the Chopin concertos by Pletnev and some minor solo pieces by different composers, all resembling Chopin’s style.
The solo playing is technically impeccable, clear and precise. Some reviewers have noted that Trifonov is spontaneous in these works. Perhaps he is. Still, I would have preferred more lyricism and rubato in the slow movements. Also, a greater sense of daring and a less literal approach would have worked better in my opinion: alas, this is a requirement for any modern recording that wants to contribute something new to this repertoire. For pure lyricism, introspection and poetry it is difficult to match Argerich’s account with Dutoit.
As mentioned earlier, this release features arrangements of the two concertos by Pletnev. The differences are more obvious in the opening of both concertos, with subtle touches in other parts. There are people who find the original orchestral writing by Chopin to be weak, compared to other composers, something I never really understood. Anyway, I doubt Pletnev was planning on an improvement, but rather on an alternative version of the orchestral parts. This is fine: other composers have done the same in the past. Nonetheless, I prefer Chopin’s original score, only because I have got used to it. As inspiring as these arrangements are, I find they distract me from my listening expectations. An alternative re-imagining of both concertos, for example, can be found in Zimerman’s recording with the Polish Festival Orchestra, also on DG, where he acts as both conductor and soloist: while Zimerman doesn’t alter the score, he chooses his own leisurely tempi and ultra-detailed textures for both works, thus creating some awe-inspiring results (combined with this introspective, heartfelt solo contribution).
Trifonov fares better in the solo pieces: an entertaining set of variations on Mozart’s “La ci darem la mano” and some Schumann, Mompou, Barber, and Tchaikovsky — all pieces in a Chopinesque mood. Among these, my personal highlight is Mompou’s “Variations on a theme by Chopin”.
Should you get this set? Yes, if you want to hear a different arrangement of the concertos by Pletnev (just don’t expect anything more than subtle re-touches overall). And yes, you should get it for Trifonov’s virtuosic playing, especially in the finales of the concertos. However, if you are looking for thoughtful, moving accounts of the concertos then Argerich/Dutoit and Zimerman with the Polish Festival Orchestra are hard to beat.
Suggested recordings for the Chopin Concertos: Argerich/Dutoit on Warner/EMI; Zimerman/Polish Festival Orchestra on DG