For the Rach lover in your life, you could do worse as a stocking stuffer than good seats to any Trifonov performance.

Daniil Trifonov performed Rachmaninoff Wednesday night with Cristian Măcelaru conducting the New York Philharmonic. Photo: Chris Lee

The New York Philharmonic on Wednesday began what promises to be one of its main box-office draws of the season, a three-week exploration of Rachmaninoff. Russia’s last great Romantic composer has always been a favorite target for contrarian critics who see him as a musical reactionary. Yet the unfettered and unabashed emotion of his music and rich melodic appeal maintain a strong communicative power, as demonstrated on this occasion by drawing a midweek audience that was close to capacity.

The ever-popular Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini proved uneven, as well. Daniil Trifonov, still just twenty-four, has already positioned himself as one of the foremost pianists on the concert circuit, to say nothing of being a formidable interpreter of Rachmaninoff. He had no trouble at all channeling the virtuosic spirit of the piece, tearing through the difficult runs with bravado and making the chords of the piano glimmer in the lyrical variations. At the same time, he seemed to be taking the Rhapsody a little too seriously: it is no trifle, sure, but neither is it a brooding rumination. There is humor in this music, and wit in its playful melodrama, which were largely missing in Trifonov’s interpretation. Via