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A Young Lion Tamed By Chopin's 'Fantasy'

When Daniil Trifonov was 20, he scored a double victory, taking home top prizes at both the Tchaikovsky and Rubinstein International Piano Competitions. That was six years ago, and by now he has secured a spot as one of the most revered – perhaps even feared – classical pianists on the scene today.

Piano legend Martha Argerich has noted Trifonov's "demonic" side. Critic Alex Ross began a profile earlier this year with the sentence: "The Russian Pianist Daniil Trifonov creates a furor." And then there was his Kennedy Center recital in April, where I witnessed him pound a piano practically into matchsticks. His rendition of Schumann's Toccata — hands in a blur over the keyboard — was at a speed that must have rivaled nuclear fission.

You catch glimpses of that fury in this new video. The music, Chopin's Fantasy-Impromptu, Op. 66, calls for singing melodies and subtle shading with only brief episodes of thunder. As it turns out, Trifonov can do all of that too. He seems to have every known pianistic tool at hand, tapping into Chopin's stormy passions and stretching out the central, lyrical section with a shimmering, pearlescent tone.

Shot in Brooklyn and at the Caramoor Center in Katonah, N.Y., Michael Joseph McQuilken's film floats somewhere between a standard music video and a fictional tale. Trifonov, planted at a Steinway in a deserted warehouse, plays the Fantasy while ghostly images waft through, depicting a composer – Chopin we assume – struggling at his writing desk to finish a letter intended for a ballet dancer.

The video coincides with Chopin Evocations, Trifonov's new album, out Oct. 6 on Deutsche Grammophon, featuring concertos and solo pieces by Chopin, his contemporaries and younger composers under his spell.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Tom Huizenga is a producer for NPR Music. He contributes a wide range of stories about classical music to NPR's news programs and is the classical music reviewer for All Things Considered. He appears regularly on NPR Music podcasts and founded NPR's classical music blog Deceptive Cadence in 2010.