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Review: Matthias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov Join Forces for ‘Magnificent Music-Making’ at Carnegie Hall

Matthias Goerne and Daniil Trifonov

By Christopher Johnson, Contributing Writer, February 7, 2018

No one ever accused Matthias Goerne of being a cutup, and his joint recital with Daniil Trifonov—ninety minutes of disappointment and death in a single uninterrupted sweep—will yield no exception. It was too much: the flutter of applause after Schumann’s Dichterliebe had a sheepish quality to it, as if somebody had to do something—anything!—to break the tension. It was also perfectly wonderful, the kind of thoughtful, penetrating program that seizes the imagination and won’t let go, even in retrospect, performed by two of the finest artists on earth.

Apart from the sheer beauty of Goerne’s singing and Trifonov’s playing, three things stood out. First, Goerne’s unfettered embodiments of text and subtext were perfectly balanced by Trifonov’s delicate restraint, the one binding and commenting on the other. Second, thirty pieces followed one another almost without pause, revealing unexpected commonalities between, say, Schumann and Berg, each of whom seemed to be working out a new thought in a new language, probing and feeling his way one note at a time; or between Brahms and Shostakovich, both of them explosively and specifically alive in every moment, ready to go off in any direction the text leads them, and devil take the hindmost. Finally, there was a level of stage-discipline probably not seen since the glory-days of Callas, whereby, for example, two discrete multi-movement works composed seventy years apart were brought into mutual resonance by the tiniest of pauses and a single raised finger, both perfectly judged and completely in character.

Goerne may not be to everyone’s taste—he goes deep, sometimes painfully deep, and if his gestures and facial expressions weren’t so manifestly genuine, and so illuminating, they might easily seem ludicrous—but he has three things you don’t often see on the concert-platform, at least not all at the same time: utter commitment, total concentration, and an absolute lack of shame about projecting a text. Watching him work his way through the Apostle Paul’s famous discourse on love (I Corinthians 13), with all its lightning-contrasts and startling oppositions, I kept thinking of Charles Laughton’s wild-man, warts-and-all performances of Scripture, the difference being that Laughton could not sing “with the tongues of angels,” as Goerne can.  What Goerne did with his two successive passes at “die Liebe” in the final line of the Brahms was only the most telling of many beautiful moments, both musically and theatrically. His recording of the piece with Christoph Eschenbach is very powerful, but it only begins to suggest the tender beauty and lyrical freedom that he and Trifonov brought to it.

Trifonov, of course, is a world-beating virtuoso, but he’s also the real thing—a musician through and through, who thinks nothing of devoting a whole evening of his “Perspectives” residency to an offbeat enterprise such as this, and who is capable of staying firmly in a supporting role while making every note he plays mean something true and important. Many of the numbers in this program have extended postludes, but Trifonov never succumbed to the temptation to “make something” of them—they were perfectly continuous with what they followed, as if a single thought were establishing and extending itself, and they led convincingly and compellingly to the next thing.

This was magnificent music-making, admittedly pushing right up to the limits of what mere flesh can stand at a single sitting, but that’s a lot of what made it great: we need to be pushed, especially when the people doing the pushing are as thoughtful and as purely-intended as Goerne and Trifonov. It helps that Goerne has one of the most beautiful voices you are ever likely to hear, especially when he sings high and soft in an old-fashioned room like Carnegie Hall, and that Trifonov is evidently prepared to do anything—and fully capable of bringing it off—in the pursuit of an interesting musical idea.

They kept it real.  Ain’t nothin’ better’n that.


Matthias Goerne, baritone, and Daniil Trifonov, piano, in recital at Carnegie Hall on February 6, 2018.

BERG Four Songs, Op. 2

SCHUMANN Dichterliebe

WOLF Three Poems of Michelangelo

SHOSTAKOVICH “Dante,” “Death,” and “Night,” from Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti (Сюита на слова Микеланджело Буонарроти,) Op.145

BRAHMS Vier ernste Gesänge, Op. 121


BACH “Bist du bei mir,” BWV 508 (after Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel)

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Cover: (l. to r.) Daniil Trifonov (at the piano) and Matthias Goerne at Carnegie Hall; photo: Richard Termine.


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