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CONCERT REVIEW: Keyboard Concerts

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When it comes to the music of Prokofiev, I now have a transformative experience on which to draw: sitting 8 feet away from piano star Daniil Trifonov as he plays a two-piano arrangement of the “Romeo and Juliet Suite.”

It’s hard to imagine any venue in the country letting you sit closer to a world-class pianist than the Keyboard Concerts series, which presented the Russian pianist Trifonov and his mentor, the acclaimed Armenian-American virtuoso Sergei Babayan, in a rousing recital Friday night at the Fresno State Concert Hall. When a concert sells out, as this one did, chairs get added to the front of the hall, not the back, with the result being that audience members can get even closer to the piano.

During the first half of the concert I sat about six rows back. For the second half I moved as close as I could get, in the front row — I’d never sat that close before at a Keyboard event — and while I can’t say I recommend the experience for everyone (or, for me, every time), it was absolutely thrilling to be in the company of the dynamic Trifonov. It was like sitting in the front seat of a roller coaster.

Slight of build, with long, slender fingers that seem to latch onto the keys, Trifonov is a buoyant performer. His body language and expression when he plays suggests a smile. Sitting so close behind him, I was amazed at his movement at the keyboard, particularly in the more clamoring parts — he swayed his head and shoulders toward the score and then back again, sometimes massaging the keyboard, other times pouncing at it. He reached such levels of sweetness and intensity in the “Romeo and Juliet before departure” movement in the Prokofiev that the moment still lingers in my mind.

My next favorite piece: Rachmaninoff’s Suite No. 2, which Babayan and Trifonov delivered with frenzied skill. Earlier, Mozart’s Sonata in D Major for four hands felt light, crisp and flawless, while Schubert’s Fantasy in F Minor, while not among my favorites, sounded deft and polished.

Another advantage of sitting where I did: I was in Trifonov’s sight line with Babayan. Playing dual pianos is an intimate experience between two musicians. By the time the pair reached an arrangement of Korsakov’s “Dance of the Tumbler” for an encore, I felt as if I was witnessing an almost psychic connection between the pair. Two great performances for the price of one — you can’t top that.

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