Music of madness fills Ozawa Hall
So it is with Robert Schumann's piano suite "Kreisleriana," a musical portrait of an eccentric, half-mad fictional composer, one Johannes Kreisler, in the writings of the ultra-romantic E.T.A. Hoffmann. In Schumann's extended set of movements, Kreisler becomes a kind of doppelg nger for Schumann himself. The affinity was obvious for a real-life composer who heard voices, throw himself into the Rhine and died in a sanatorium.
Hoffmann is not much read today but operagoers know him through Offenbach's "Tales of Hoffmann," in which the romantic hero ventures off into hopeless loves against the counsel of his friend (and conscience) Nicklaus. Divided personality — perhaps manic-depressive — runs from Hoffmann to Kreisler and then to Schumann.
The Russian-American pianist Daniil Trifonov took on "Kreisleriana," and a lot more besides, in a long, taxing recital Wednesday night at Tanglewood. Schumann subtitles "Kreisleriana" "Fantasies for piano," and the fantastical was the element that Trifonov set loose as he stormed and dreamed his way across the keyboard.
Trifonov, still in his mid-20s, possesses a formidable technique. Hunched intently over the keys or occasionally leaping off the bench for an outburst, he alternated, often abruptly, hot frenzy with cool command in the suite. The jarring moods had a sometimes frightening, almost diabolic intensity. Florestan and Eusebius, Schumann named his fictional alter egos: the extrovert and the introvert. They co-existed, unstoppably and unstably, in the rhythmically supple outpouring of sound.
The program opened with a more easy-going, even childlike Schumann suite, "Kinderszenen" ("Scenes from Childhood"). Trifonov was a consummate storyteller here, playing tag in blind man's buff, rocking on a hobbyhorse and then falling asleep and drifting off into sweet dreams at the end. The childlike became adult, and vice versa.
Between the two suites came Schumann's Toccata in C, Opus 7, a hard-driving showpiece in which Trifonov could show the full range of his technique while subordinating it to expressive power.
The post-intermission program was Russian: five of Shostakovich's 24 Preludes and Fugues, Opus 87, and three episodes from Stravinsky's ballet "Petrushka."
The predominantly slow Shostakovich selection, taken from his response to Bach's set of 24, enjoyed a Bach-like transparency tinged with Shostakovich's trademark strain of irony and melancholy. As Trifonov let go with all he had in "Petrushka," the poor puppet spun about in a frenzy of gyrations beyond anything that could possibly be danced. There was perhaps a touch of madness here, too.
The dazzled audience erupted in a frenzy, and received Federico Mompou's Variations on a Theme of Chopin as an encore.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.