Théâtre des Champs Élysées, Paris
Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
Gidon Kremer, violin
Daniil Trifonov, piano
Giedre Dirvanauskaite, cello
Mozart – Fantasy for piano K. 397
Weinberg – Sonata for violin no. 3, op. 126
Schubert – Fantasy for violin and piano, D. 934
Rachmaninov – Elegiac Trio no. 2, op. 9


Paris, surprisingly maybe, has always been much more of a theatre city than a music city.  Lately (not so lately, but I would say in the last 30 years), nevertheless, two or three phenomenons have taken  place in Paris, and in the whole of France, for that matter.

First of all, a pretty impressive musical agenda has sprung up on the Parisian scene. It can still not purport to rival New York, London, Vienna and Berlin, but there are certainly enough concerts to choose from and even to force one occasionally to agonize over simultaneous offerings.  The Bastille has shot up as one of the major opera houses in the world, with some of the best productions around. I can’t wait to see the Magic Flute as produced by the genius Robert Carsen whose Capriccio is one of the best productions I have ever seen, not to speak of his “mise en scène” of the Impressionism and Fashion exhibit – both of which I have written about somewhere on this site.

Secondly, the number of music festivals, mostly in the Summer, has increased tenfold in the loveliest settings one can imagine, Nantes, Annecy, Evian, La Roque d’Anthéron, Aix en Provence, to name only very few.

And last but certainly not least, as it is both a consequence and a driving force behind this spectacular growth, the relatively new crop of outstanding musicians in France is baffling and dazzling. Examples are, among many others, pianists François-frédéric Guy, Alexandre Tharaud, Frank Braley, Pierre-Laurent Aimard, violinists Renaud Capuçon, Augustin Dumay, Laurent Korcia, Isabelle Faust, flutist Emmanuel Pahud, and cellists (oh my, the cellists, how I cherish them all!) Jean-Guihen Queyras, Emmanuelle Bertrand, Ophélie Gaillard, Henri Demarquette, Gauthier Capuçon, Anne Gastinel… I could fill pages and more pages, and they all deserve standing ovations.

But I started out to tell you about the latest concert I attended in Paris, not to write a treatise on French musicians, as much as I would love to.

So, still jet-lagged after an 11 hour trip from South America, I took myself and my tiny little cousin Nano (that is a private joke, of course!) to the Théâtre des Champs Élysées, still pretty shiny after its 1985/87 restoration, for this concert I had been looking forward to since I spotted it on the online schedule. Gidon Kremer is arguably (but please don’t try to argue with me, I’m very partial and can get nasty with my opinions) the greatest living violinist. Daniil Trifonov I had never heard, but had heard of as a shooting star. Giedre Dirvanauskaite (who luckily is not, as far as I know, vying for a Hollywood career as she would certainly have to do something about her Lithuanian name) I had neither heard or heard about.

The format was a usual chamber music one, very nicely distributed among the performers who took turns at playing alone (except Giedre, alas!) and with each other, to the audience’s delight – in my case mixed, as you will understand later.

So the first on stage was young (very young, born in 1991) and multi-awarded (Tchaikovsky and Chopin prizes!) Trifonov. The piece was one of my own, and by that I mean that I happily butchered it in my youth. Weeellll… Trifonov did not quite butcher it, that would be very unfair of me to say, but he certainly did not play it the way I believe it should be played. As many of these very young so-called geniuses, Trifonov has a pretty impressive technique, although I did hear some missteps here and there, we are all human, aren’t we? But don’t let all the fame and big prizes fool you, he is not at all an accomplished pianist. How dare I?  will you ask. Well I dare because music to me goes far beyond playing the notes, however efficiently one does it. And Trifonov is to me a Russian version of Lang Lang, a pianist which I intensely dislike. Both place technique above all, both are pretentious and self-centered, to the detriment of the music, both are stylistic aberrationists – I’m sorry, I’m not sure the word exists, but you will certainly know what I mean. So the Mozart fantasy was not well treated.

Then came my idol. The complete opposite of his young colleague, the slowly but surely aging Kremer is at first glance a humble and self effacing man, stooping slightly, smiling shyly and sweetly. But as soon as he puts his Amati under his chin, the gigantic musician emerges and we are all bathed in his shining light. His technique is flawless (yes, that can be true even of good musicians…), but it is merely a means to an end, and the end is to serve the music to the best of his judgement, intelligence, knowledge, fervor, talent and emotion.  His tone is sublime (and I can assure you that the Amati helps, but certainly does not play by itself), his phrasing and dynamics simply thrilling, his sense of shaping the music unique. And so we sit there in awe to hear him play a solo sonata by Mieczysław Weinberg, a Russian composer which, to my shame, I had never heard of. The music is not easy to appreciate at first hearing but it is extremely interesting and engrossing, making me think of his better known (to me) compatriots Schnittke and Gubaidulina, not that he isn’t his own man, but that he belongs to that category of great Russian composers. To make the large audience listen with the utmost attention is, of course, all to Kremer’s credit. He made us all wish for more, and I will definitely go after it.

After the relatively unknown Weinberg, our beloved Schubert, and one of his most majestic works. Again, I get supremely annoyed at Trifonov. Whereas Kremer plays “behind” the music serving it on a golden platter, with the utmost reverence and the deepest understanding, Mr. Trifonov sets himself at the forefront, heavy-handedly showing off his skills and his lack of sensitivity. Oh yes, there are some “biutiful” pianos and silky legatos, but they are totally out of context. So again, apart from being a debatable pianist, he is definitely not a chamber musician. And I have no idea why the piano lid was kept wide open throughout the concert, making Trifonov’s uncomfortable presence even more conspicuous.

After the intermission, the second of Rachmaninov’s Elegiac trios, dedicated to Tchaikovsky, a deeply moving and mournful piece, perfectly in keeping with its name, not one that you will immediately take to but which will slowly settle itself in your soul and bring you a sweet sadness. Here Kremer and Trifonov were joined by a most interesting cellist, Giedre Dirvanauskaite, which is everything Trifonov is not, as far as chamber music is concerned – attentive to her partners, capable of playing eloquently and with a lovely tone when the lead is hers – and leaving me very sorry that she was not given the opportunity to play a solo piece.