Culture Magazine

Concert Review: Slip-Slidin' Away

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Valery Gergiev and Daniil Trifonov return to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Concert Review: Slip-Slidin' Away

And carry a small stick: Valery Gergiev.
Photo © 2017 Munich Philharmonic Orchestra.

Six years and some months ago, the pianist Daniil Trifonov made his debut at Carnegie Hall. On Saturday night, Mr. Trifonov re-teamed with Valery Gergiev, now at the helm of the MET Orchestra. Mr. Gergiev spent many years as a principal guest conductor at the Metropolitan Opera, and one assumes that the players remain familiar with his eccentric conducting style. This was the first of three scheduled spring concerts by New York's greatest opera orchestra, an annual tradition at this venue following the end of the opera season.
The Schumann concerto had its origins as a single-movement work, a free-flowing fantasia for conductor and orchestra. "Free-flowing" might also characterize Mr. Trifonov's performance, which cared little for subtleties and exactitude, preferring a casual approach to the letter of the score that still paid substantial dividends to the listener. From the dramatic entrance of his instrument he then extemporized on the thematic material. accompanied by Mr. Gergiev's indecipherable hand-flutters and pinched-finger conducting.
Both of these musicians were willing to engage in this relaxed approach to this music, probing its corners for new musical thoughts and riding through the dream-like second subject. The long central development was appropriately mournful and conductor, pianist and orchestra made a dramatic return to the opening material at the recapitulation, delivering exciting results as they took the turn into the final cadenza. This was Mr. Trifonov's show, as he, hunched expanded still further on the readily available material, his long fingers delivering fireworks.
The next two movements are a bit of a musical afterthought, added only when Schumann decided to expand this work into a full three-movement concerto. The short, lyrical middle movement led the listener head-on into the finale. Both pianist and conductor led the dance through this 3/4 movement, nimbly creating room for each other as the work tumbled toward a happy and coherent resolution. There were missed notes and slipped rhythms but the end result was one of happy musical cohesion, and of further valication for the excellent instrumental abilities of this orchestra.
Following the concerto, Mr. Trifonov returned to the piano for a brief encore. This proved to be more Schumann, the first movement (marked "Nicht schnell, mit innigkeit") from the composer's Bunte Blätter. This gentle bit of proto-impressionism was played with sensitivity and warmth, with a repeated little tune that hummed over the constant flow of notes from the other hand. The warmth and depth here are indications of how much Mr. Trifonov has developed over six years, going from another ordinary pianist to something very special indeed.
Without Robert Schumann there would be no Schubert Ninth. it was Schumann who discovered the dusty manuscript of this mighty Symphony and realized what a work of genius it was. He got it performed by his friend Felix Mendelssohn in Leipzig and the rest as they say is history. (It did take some time for the ninth to become a repertory work and now no self-respecting Symphony Orchestra can live without it.) This is an expansion of Schubert's melodic abilities to the grandest of vistas. The four massive movements don't really conform to the conventional idea of a symphony, but that's part of why this work is so important, paving the way for future visionaries like Brahms, Bruckner and Mahler.
Mr. Gergiev let a performance that was for the most part content to let the music make its own statement as voiced by the superb playing of the met forces. From that noble horn call forward this was a muscular, tension-filled performance. The only tiny question mark came at the end of the first movement when Mr. Gergiev whipped out one of his willful tempo changes rushing the repetition of the main theme. However his tinkering did not hurt the overall majestic arc of Schubert's vision. The very slow second movement tried the patience of some audience members but they were rewarded with a one-two punch of the symphony's bold conclusion.
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