Liszt's Transcendental Studies are a colossal undertaking for any pianist. They are a catalogue of showmanship, an encyclopedia of technical challenges from double octaves to frenzied scales to the kind of finger action that sounds like several hands must be pummelling the keyboard all at once. They are physically and musically unrelenting; to sit through all 12 in a row is a big ask for the listener, let alone the performer.
Twenty-three-year-old Russian pianist Daniil Trifonov is that rare breed of old-fashioned virtuoso who can not only master this music technically, but also make some poetic sense of it. His long fingers are built for the challenge, and he has the capacity to unleash the avalanche of notes and pick character and nuance from the dense scoring. Several audience watches bleeped one o'clock during the lush textures of the penultimate study, Harmonies du soir, bringing us thumping to earth after a bewildering hour.
Trifonov's playing was fearless throughout his Queen's Hall recital, but he is also developing an intriguing range of idiosyncrasies. His chin neared the keyboard and his facial expressions twisted in anguish as he opened with Stravinsky's Serenade in A. His articulation was typically forthright and he pulled around certain corners. He lingered on a sudden moment of quiet at the end of the Hymn, made the Romanza a very volatile rhapsody with a jagged-edged melodicism and hammered out the lines of the graceful Cadenza Finale. His account of Ravel's first four Miroirs was less about colour, more about flux and space. He wasn't afraid of bringing muscularity and harshness to the shimmering writing; it wasn't always pretty - Un barque sur l'ocean was ferociously stormy - but it was very much his own.
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
As his final word on War - the theme that has threaded this year's Edinburgh International Festival together - director Jonathan Mills' work Sandakan Threnody was performed on Saturday night. Premiered in Adelaide in 2001, it commemorates the thousands of soldiers held in a Japanese prisoner of war camp in north-east Borneo during the Second World War, and lost on death marches through the jungles.
Those jungles are clearly audible in this work, which, given Mills' rather oblique style, is surprisingly programmatic and audibly descriptive. No wonder that this work for Symphony orchestra, tenor and chorus has been seized by theatre directors and adapted for the stage. The atmospheric noises of clattering percussion, wailing strings, and unnerving atmospheric jungle sounds conjure ghastly visions. A remarkable human quality also pervades, a violin solo from Laura Samuel a lost voice amid the crowd, for example.
The voice of tenor Andrew Staples was also raised high above the crowd, first with a dark and desperate chant, and then a sublime but desperate longing for Sleep, both of which he delivered with his fluid musicality and drama.
Janacek's Glagolithic Mass formed the second half of the almost sold-out concert, with more stunning voices at the front, particularly from soprano Hibla Gerzmava and Heldentenor Simon O'Neil. Jan Martinik and Claudia Huckle had far less to do, but added to the glorious total. The BBCSSO with Volkov were incisive throughout.
And how nice to see Mills give his final leaving speech with a Scottish orchestra and the Festival Chorus on stage behind him, at what he was at pains to remind us is "our" festival. He left the stage smiling and waving to warm applause.