Daniil Trifonov, a frequent guest artist with the NY Philharmonic since 2012, here inaugurated his tenure as the orchestra’s 2019-2020 Mary and James G. Wallach Artist-in-Residence with a graceful and moving performance of Scriabin’s Piano Concerto. The composer’s first work for orchestra (he was only 24 when he wrote it) is a rarity on the concert stage. Prior to this week, the Philharmonic had performed it only twice before – in 1973 with Georg Semkow as conductor and Vladimir Ashkenazy as soloist, and in 2012 with Alan Gilbert on the podium and Evgeny Kissin at the piano.
Trifonov gave a sensitive, poetic and seemingly effortless account of the Chopinesque work. Jaap van Zweden and the Philharmonic musicians played along with great dedication throughout. Without being overly demonstrative, they remained fully attuned to their guest’s low-keyed virtuosity. The soloist introduced the lyrical melody of the opening Allegro with gorgeous fluidity and warmth, and as the work unfolded, his dazzling, yet self-effacing, pianism became increasingly apparent. Large stretches of the score are structurally diffuse, with the always active piano often blending into the orchestra in a more obbligato-like role. Trifonov’s gorgeous rubato always seemed completely natural and unforced. The most impressive playing was in the magnificent slow movement – a kind of theme and variations – enhanced on this occasion by the captivating woodwinds (especially Pascual Martínez Forteza’s clarinet) and the songful choir of strings. As an encore, Trifonov delivered a bravura rendition of Scriabin’s Étude No.5 in C-sharp minor, Op.42.
After intermission came a tightly controlled, finely sculpted reading of Tchaikovsky’s well-worn Fifth Symphony. Van Zweden elicited a judiciously-paced, histrionic-free opening movement. The elegiac melancholy of the slow movement was particularly affecting, with its famous horn solo played most delicately played, and the graciously executed third-movement waltz had some especially fine woodwind contributions. The finale came with an intense, but carefully-timed, Allegro vivace that gradually increased in momentum and excitement and brought the music to a sparkling and energetic – yet somewhat less than totally gripping – close.