Trifonov sets the benchmark in Rachmaninov

Trifonov sets the benchmark in Rachmaninov


norman lebrecht

October 25, 2019

From the Lebrecht Album of the Week:


… My feeling is that Daniil Trifonov and Yannick Nézet-Séguin have set the benchmark for the next quarter-century. Outstanding in their previous release of the 2nd and 4th concertos, they deliver a performance of the first concerto that makes light of its difficulties and hesitations, lightening also its endemic morbidity with little touches of finger-wit and some gorgeous phrases from the Philadelphia winds…

Read on here.


And here.


  • pageturner says:

    I bet it’s very different from the composer’s own traversal of these works, but welcome nonetheless for those that don’t listen to documents of historical significance.

  • Jack says:

    I’ve always thought of Rachmaninoff as the benchmark for his own work. That will continue to be my standard. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love what Argerich, Wild, Ashkenazy and others have done with this repertoire.

    Frankly these ‘benchmarks’ are starting to annoy me. Why not just say it’s an amazing take on a great work (or set of works) and leave it at that?

    • MusicBear88 says:

      I don’t believe in “definitive” recordings in general, with the possible exception of when a composer records his own work AND we know that the circumstances were at least mostly what they wanted. Britten conducting or playing Britten, for instance, is probably pretty close to his ideal. Widor playing his most famous Toccata at the age of 89 is probably not.

      For Rachmaninoff, his own recordings are certainly valuable historic documents as well as damn good recordings. Horowitz was obviously close to the composer, Rubinstein, and the pianists mentioned by Jack, each for a different reason. I think it all builds on a performance tradition, and I doubt that pianists today would deny the influence that their forbears have had on them.

    • Dorian says:


    • Jeffrey Biegel says:

      There can never be a true benchmark when it comes to recordings vs. performances. It boils down to personal preference. Problem is, people come to expect the perfection from the mastered and acoustically altered sound of a recording in a concert hall. I also love Rachmaninoff’s own interpretations. He recreates his own creation and only he can because it from him. There have been wonderful performances and recordings since, of course. But there is no best. Some feel the haunting chant of the first two pages and use the pedal to avoid a monotone sound. Some feel it faster as it gets more virtuosic, others feel the rich expanse and space of the intensity without too much speed. It is a highly individual decision. Also depends on the pianos, the concert hall, acoustics (which determines tempi as well, in some cases), and the overall feeling of the music. By the way, if you have not listened to Alicia de Larrocha’s recording, please do. Perhaps the smallest hands in the business, she brought so much music to the piece.

  • J'aime la musique says:

    If these performances are “benchmarks,” why are they only given four stars? Have any other recordings received five stars? If so, why aren’t they “benchmarks?”

  • Robert Battey says:

    When did Richter record No. 3?

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    He is a wonderful pianist! I dare say that, with due respect, labeling only puts pressure on that person to meet that standard in performance. Recordings are not the same. And, we do not know who is learning these works at this moment for the next quarter century. What Daniil is actually creating, is a testament of how he plays this music, which keeps the continuum of recordings and performances ever evolving. That is something everyone can agree on. Individual recordings not the same.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Alexandeer Ghindin with Vladimir Ashkenazy conducting have recorded the original uncut version of rachmaninoff’s first concerto. Rachmaninoff ‘s own recording, and that of his friend
    Benno Moiseiw, of the revisionitsc, are not to be missed, along with Richter and the younger Ashkenazy’s own.

    I expect good things from Trifonov and Ashkenazy, and from Matsuev if he gets around to it. I saw Matsuev play the third concerto with Gergiev His encore was, of course, Anatole Liadoff’s “Music Box”, the third time Matsuev has would it up here.

    Rachmaninoff said that in the first concerto he followed Grieg’s form. I wouldn’t have guessed tthat except for the precipitous beginning.

  • Pedro says:

    As far as I know, Richter never recorded the 3rd. Am I right?

    • Edgar Self says:

      Yes, Pedro, as far as I know Richter didn’t perform or record Rachmaninoff’s third concerto, but only the first two. Stranger still, Michelangeli played only the fourth. When he was a juror at the Chopin competition in Warsaw he reportedly asked many people there for their opinion of it.

    • Shalom Rackovsky says:

      Richter never performed the 3rd. He avoided performing a number of great works when he loved the performance by some colleague. For example, he never performed Beethoven’s 4th or the Emperor for that reason. I don’t remember offhand whose performance of the Rachmaninoff 3rd inspired him.

  • Sue Sonata Form says:

    I’ve often wondered why the Rach #1 is neglected in favour of the other concertos. It’s a wonderful work and Richter made a fine recording of it in the 1950s.

    • Petros LInardos says:

      I feel the same way about Rachmaninov’s 1st piano concerto, and about Tchaikovsky’s 2nd (I even like his 3rd) – though there is no shortage of excellent recordings for either.
      It’s a pity that many concert programs combine warhorses (say Rach 2, 3, Paganini) with 20th-21st century music, at the expense of many beautiful romantic works that are seldom heard.

  • Petros Linardos says:

    “Ten years from now, he will read the work quite differently.” That’s something to look forward to. Yet if continue with their current practices, by 2030 they’ll have probably turned on to new young star.

    • Petros Linardos says:

      I meant: If the media and blogs continue with their current practices, by 2030 they’ll have moved on to younger stars, and ignore the middle aged Trifonov’s possibly very interesting development.

      Sorry, I was writing too hastily earlier.

  • Trumptrain2020 says:

    If the benchmark is sounding like you’re choking yourself while masturbating, then I agree. If not, try Rubinstein/Reiner.

  • Tichy says:

    Fine interpretation, no doubt. The recording quality on the other hand is mediocre, especially for a DG release.
    And Trifonovs playing with Rattle in Berlin (31. December 2016) was much more mesmerizing. That’s the benchmark for me.

  • Jeffrey Biegel says:

    Byron Janis.