Lenox — In a solo recital video shot recently in Studio E of Tanglewood’s Linde Center for Music and Learning, pianist Daniil Trifonov plays J. S. Bach’s “The Art of Fugue” so beautifully it is almost unbearable. Funny thing is, Trifonov is best known for his virtuosic performances of 19th-century Romantic repertoire. (Think Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Tchaikovsky, Chopin.) His only Bach recording is actually an arrangement Sergei Rachmaninoff made of Bach’s Violin Partita No. 3 in E major. So there is considerable novelty in Trifonov the Romantic performing a Baroque masterpiece written long before the pianoforte became widely popular. If he’s not already famous for this, he soon will be.
We’ve all heard performances of Bach’s keyboard works that were little more than a blurred barrage of notes flung from the keyboard with reckless fury. Trifonov takes a very different approach, navigating Bach’s convoluted musical landscape according to new rules. On the one hand, he has the lightest touch of any Bach interpreter you’re likely to hear, and on the other, an unpredictable and dangerously mischievous facility that Martha Argerich calls “demonic.”
(Of course, Daniil Trifonov isn’t the first pianist to bring such delicate finesse to a J. S. Bach performance. For example, the spellbound atmosphere of Leon Fleisher’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” is as magical as a Bach performance gets.)
Yes, Trifonov is a rare musical creature, a bona fide prodigy with technique the New Yorker calls “monstrous” and “stupefying.” But what he brings to “The Art of Fugue” goes far beyond technical precision. If this young pianist is capable of awakening in listeners a wholly new and unexpected appreciation of 19th-century piano literature, he will surely make his mark as one of the world’s leading purveyors of J. S. Bach’s most demanding works for keyboard.
Okay. Maybe you have to love Bach to fully experience the rare bliss this performance brings. But if anyone can turn you into a Bach lover, it is Daniil Trifonov.
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Running time: one hour and 12 minutes
This video will be available for streaming through Saturday, Aug. 15, at bso.org.