The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Piano sensation Daniil Trifonov plays the “Fantaisie-Impromptu” by Chopin and makes it his own | October 27, 2017

By Jacob Stockinger

Take a world-class young pianist who is a global sensation and on his way to being a superstar who specializes in Chopin – Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov (below).

Add in one of the best-known, most popular works by Frederic Chopin – his “Fantaisie-Impromptu.”

Blend in a warehouse loft and a ghostly, pop-like video with a dance-like narrative, all designed to promote Trifonov’s new CD – a budget double-disc set called “Chopin Evocations” (below).

The recording also features both piano concertos with some new orchestral touches by Russian pianist and conductor Mikhail Pletnev as well as Chopin-influenced solo pieces by Robert Schumann, Edvard Grieg, Samuel Barber, Peter Tchaikovsky and Federico Mompou.

The result may well be the most original, individual and persuasive versions of the famous piece you have ever heard of the almost clichéd piece.

Here is a link to the performance with the video, along with some fine background material from Tom Huizenga who writes the “Deceptive Cadence” blog for NPR (National Public Radio):

What do you think of Trifonov’s playing in this and other works?

And what do you think about the video, which The Ear finds a bit over-the-top, both precious and schmaltzy, not at all in keeping with Chopin’s more austere and classical kind of Romanticism.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. “Tell me how many of the youngsters and how much of each of them you’ve bothered to listen to.”

    Well, the jury at the Chopin festival (and they are experts and know more about music than you or me) listened to them all and ranked them: Trivonov placed 4th (there was a tie for 2nd place).

    For your information, Garrick Ohlsson was the gold medal winner (different year) and both Rubinstein and Arrau are considered amongst the top pianists of the past century. Both were Chopin specialists. And with Rubinstein, one can trace a direct line from Chopin to him by his teachers.

    Comment by fflambeau — October 30, 2017 @ 6:17 am

  2. The video would have spoiled the enjoyment of the music if almost anyone but Trifanov had been playing. It seems to have no sense to it, is the man supposed to be Chopin? Why have they chosen someone who looks like Delacroix (who neither wrote music or painted ballet dancers), why have they chosen ballet at all – Chopin didn’t write for the ballet. It all seems somewhat pointless and inappropriate, it detracts and distracts from the main point – Chopin’s beautiful music and Trifanov’s wonderful interpretation and playing. After seeing this, I still play the video on You Tube but listen with my eyes closed.

    Comment by Gwynneth Lynn — October 27, 2017 @ 1:54 pm

    • Let me ask you this: what does he provide in his Chopin playing that revered pianists like A. Rubinstein and C. Arrau (both considered amongst the top pianists of all time) do not? Note too that there is a direct line from Chopin to Rubinstein in training.

      Be specific, please.

      And I don’t mean gushing over the atmospherics and the video, which someone here astutely describes as 1960’s MTV for classical music!

      This is just a marketing effort to sell not only highly priced DG recordings, but to make a “new star”.

      Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2017 @ 10:24 pm

  3. I’ve been a Trifonov fan right from the first note of the Chopin Competition. He’s an original and always worth hearing.

    I could have done with NONE of the foofah accompanying video. Added nothing and was distracting.

    Comment by Michael P Scott — October 27, 2017 @ 8:10 am

    • Are you aware that Trifonov did not win the Chopin competition and in fact placed 3rd?

      Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2017 @ 10:32 pm

      • In fact, there were 3 other pianists in the Chopin competition who ranked above Trifonov.

        First prize winner was Yulianna Avdeeva, Second prize winner was shared by 2 pianists, neither of whom was Trifonov. They were: Lukas Geniušas and Ingolf Wunder.

        So in effect, Trifonov was chosen by an international group of judges to be in 4th place! Yet here he is being acclaimed as one of the all time Chopin performers? Nonsense!

        Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2017 @ 10:38 pm

  4. In these comments, we can already see the effect of Deutsche Grammophon’s marketing: people who don’t trust their own ears are already dismissing a major talent whom so many older musicians (Brendel, Argerich, Leonskaja, Kremer, Mutter, Pletnev) have praised.

    Sure, Trifonov should jump ship from the bloated carcass that is Deutsche Grammophon, I agree — but where should he go? Universal’s DG, Warner, Sony are the big labels with the most selling power in an already struggling marketplace where a few hot young women on YT might garner a fan following without expert help. DG has a 100-year-old reputation, plus Zimerman, Sokolov, Argerich, et al; yet THEY don’t have to be marketed in this way because they are past their expiration date in terms of sex appeal (and also because of the attitude that older is better, see fflambeau’s comment on this blog). Trifonov, however, has to deal with DG’s overly zealous marketing machine.

    What is a young musician to do? If people don’t trust their own ears and don’t want to listen to young musicians, the field will die. There are only so many times you can quote Martha Argerich saying “I’ve never heard anything like that.”

    Comment by AnonymousYouTuber — October 27, 2017 @ 7:50 am

    • What is an younger artist to do? Simple: look for a different label. Or, found his own (something that Alan Hovhaness who was not wealthy did).

      Stop making excuses, please!

      This is a marketing gimmick dwelling on sex and presentation. And yes, I like the older pianists A. Rubinstein (universally admired as THE interpreter Chopin and also C. Arrau but not because they are old (and both dead). They had talent and proved it over many decades, this man hasn’t).

      Please tell me what Trifinov provides in his Chopin playing that these greats didn’t. Be specific.

      Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2017 @ 10:30 pm

      • Note that 3 (three) other pianists ranked above Trifonov according to the judges of the International Chopin Competition.

        Contrast that with Claudio Arrau’s gold medal performance (likely before the Chopin competition began):

        “1927: Winner of the Grand Prix of the Concours International des Pianistes Geneva. The jury was composed by Arthur Rubinstein, Joseph Pembauer, Ernest Schelling, Alfred Cortot and José Vianna da Motta.[13] Cortot exclaimed: “Cela c’est un pianiste. C’est merveilleux”

        Imagine, winning the gold with Alfred Cortot and Rubinstein as the jurists! The best that Trifonov could do was finish effectively in 4th place!

        Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2017 @ 11:09 pm

      • Tell me how many of the youngsters and how much of each of them you’ve bothered to listen to. Please, list specific performances and recordings before you dare to wade into this debate. I hate to break it to you, but aesthetics change over the course of a century. Trifonov does not play like those who felt the need to resuscitate Chopin from its own languid beauty. Yet you are going to dismiss Trifonov’s musicianship based on a marketing gimmick? And then resort to boasting about who won what gold medal in what competition? Do your research, man.

        Comment by AnonymousYouTuber — October 28, 2017 @ 7:31 am

  5. It’s like 1980s MTV for the classical music world.

    Comment by tom — October 27, 2017 @ 7:21 am


    Comment by Terry Baer — October 27, 2017 @ 5:17 am

  7. I’m sure that Daniel Trifonov is a major talent on the piano.

    However, this piece by Chopin has been played by many, many outstanding pianists (like Artur Rubinstein, to name just one and Claudio Arrau for another and E. Kissin as another) so to call it and the pianist what you did (“The result may well be the most original, individual and persuasive versions of the famous piece you have ever heard of the almost clichéd piece”) to me smacks of attempting to create a super star syndrome, as does the DG label, which relies on this phenomenon all too often, often to elevate sales and prices.

    Face it: This young man is likely no better (and probably not as good as) Rubinstein and Garrick Ohlsson, another brilliant Chopin player, and many others. If you look at Facebook, you’ll see dozens of terrific pianists who have played this, including those mentioned above and the likes of Murray Perhia, Lang Lang, Emil Gilels, Jorge Bolet etc. There have been many greats playing this piece and this guy is nothing special. What is “new” is the packaging and the promotion, which you are providing free. Also new is the “sexy” young player with camera shots of the bearded young man in an atmospheric video. DG is selling sex and so are you.

    You are carrying water for the “star system”. Sorry, I’ll take a pass.

    Comment by fflambeau — October 27, 2017 @ 4:23 am

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