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Daniil Trifonov and Matthias Goerne in concert at the McCarter

Ralph Malachowski

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posted by Ralph Malachowski on Feb 21, 2018 10:30am | comments


The celebrated pianist Daniil Trifonov and estimable baritone Matthias Goerner presented a song recital at Matthews Theatre at the McCarter Theatre Center on February 4.

Mr. Daniil Trifonov (according to the program, pronounced as dan-EEL TREE-fon-ov) acted as accompanist to the baritone Matthias Goerne (no pronunciation key provided) in a program of German songs of doomed or thwarted love, shameful love, hopeless love, and death.

The announcer onstage before the concert compared these two to the illustrious duo Gerald Moore and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Gerald Moore was an intelligent and knowledgeable accompanist. Mr. Trifonov is a young artist still feeling his way as an accompanist. During the course of the ninety-minute concert with no pause and no applause, we found much to like and some things not so felicitous. Mr. Trifonov on occasion let the music speak beautifully, but as an accompanist, his task is to support the singer, which he did well and only rarely too briskly. Mr. Goerner was the main event, so to speak, and he left little to wish for. At the peak of his career, he did nevertheless sound a few rough notes, especially the last song of the program where he did, rightly, show some strain. An old saying holds true here: an intermission is for the performer as well as the audience. Even allowing applause could have given both performers and audience a chance to breathe and reflect. Such give-and-take would have been welcome.

The program included lieder by Alban Berg, Robert Schumann’s Dichterliebe, Hugo Wolf’s and Dmitri Shostakovich’s famed settings of Michelangelo’s sonnets, and songs by Johannes Brahms. As we listened, they shared their fruits, which spoke of doomed and thwarted love and death and forbidden passions. Michelangelo, Schumann, Brahms, Berg, and Wolf sat in seats among us, amused by the performers onstage as they wrestled with Eros and Thanatos and those listening in the audience next to the dead genii. Ninety minutes of sublime joy before annihilation. Perhaps that’s why both men hurried through the program fearing death might seize them any minute. They feared to be alone. They would cease to live, and by extension, our lives might end then as well. Emerald mirrors reflected upon our souls and purified us, through exhaustion, preparing us to die upon blazing warships set upon the Delaware. Princeton became Troy, then Carthage, finally Delacroix’s Death of Sardanapalus. Indeed, only the Byronic tale could compare to Art’s demands, the homicide of banal emotions. Mr. Trifonov and Mr. Goerne tossed us into a fiery furnace where each of us in the audience arose as blazing ingots purified from our mortal coils.

We can only guess as to the reasons they both constructed a program of such heartbreak and death. Were they speaking about their own relationship, the futility of love, or its absolute necessity? Only dead, syphilitic Hugo Wolf, Cantankerous Michelangelo, and fevered Brahms know the answer.  Looking out into the audience they saw only a field of gladiolas, not an audience filled mostly with people clasping to their eighth decade of life, pondering their own loves and imminent departures, their valedictory farewells to life.

At the conclusion of the program, both artists bowed, returned, and left several times to standing ovations, only to fly off to heaven, stranding us bereft, naked, and spent, yet fresh as newly-baked bread hot out of the oven.

The McCarter Theatre Center continues its season presenting programs that are classical, popular, theatrical, and whimsical. For information about the season, visit

NOTE: Opinions are those of the author, and not necessarily those of or of any organization or business that the author is assosciated with.

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