Transcendent Etudes

Daniil Trifonov won the Grammy in the best classical solo album category this year for his two-disc recording of some of Liszt’s magnificent etudes for piano entitled Transcendental.  I was fortunate enough to see the young Russian play at Symphony Center last year, and, knowing nothing about him, instantly became a fan – his technique and spirit are captivating.  Transcendental is, indeed, a good word for the experience of seeing Trifonov live, so it’s a fitting title to the nearly two hours of music on this release from Deutsch Grammophon, one of the most prestigious classical labels.

The album’s namesake Transcendental etudes are, of course, at the heart of Trifonov’s poject.  These most famous of Liszt’s many etudes have a long history – the composer himself revised them extensively over the course of 26 years.  He began working on them when he was just a boy, in 1826, and they reached their current form in 1852.  They, along with the Paganini etudes, also included in the set, are some of the most technically demanding etudes in the piano repertoire.

On the recording, Trifonov displays subtlety and a breadth of color and mood that sets apart piano playing from piano mastery.  His subject matter, Liszt’s etudes, are composed from the same abilities.  As I’ve learned more about Liszt and Trifonov, I’ve come to view them as kindred spirits.  Sitting at the piano, Trifonov embodies these masterworks – many already consider him, at the age of 27, to be one of our greatest living pianists.  The same was often said of Liszt during the 19th century.  The album is well worth buying, but you can get a feel for its “transcendent” nature from this 2016 Trifonov performance of the twelve etudes:

Thanks for reading.


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