It was surprising that Valery Gergiev was conducting the MET Orchestra in works by Schumann and Schubert, since for more than fifteen years their collaborations have been exclusively in music by Russian composers. The result was at best a mixed bag, with the Schumann coming off best, thanks to Daniil Trifonov, whereas the Schubert lacked sparkle and vitality.
Trifonov was in fine form, attacking the opening statement with vigor and bringing gentle refinement to melodic passages with well-considered rubato. His interplay with the orchestra was notable, and he generated breathless excitement in the cadenza. The Intermezzo was, in essence, a romantic conversation between Trifonov’s delicately amorous piano and the responsive strings, with the cellos shining through. Trifonov launched the Finale smartly, and then showed off his dexterity in syncopations and elaborate passagework. Further Schumann for an encore: the opening number of Bunte Blätter, Opus 99.
Schubert’s ‘Great’ C-major acquired its soubriquet as descriptive of the Symphony being on a grander scale than the same-key Sixth. In the Ninth, Schubert was seeking to emulate Beethoven, but this performance fell far short of that mark, often feeling ponderous. Although Gergiev did not double woodwinds, as some conductors do, the sound was as dense and as massive as if he had done so. And his observance of every repeat stretched the duration, if without sufficient variety of expression to make it worthwhile. There were many pleasurable passages, however, among them the rich strings and resonant winds during the introduction and the oboe and sweet cellos in the Andante con moto. Yet, in both the Scherzo and the Finale, pleasing beginnings wore out their welcome as the music drove on past one plausible ending point after another.