Let me begin with a confession. When it comes to Franz Schubert’s Ninth Symphony, called “The Great C Major,” I have never felt it deserved the title. And for those commentators who have effused over the symphony’s “heavenly length,” I have translated that encomium as “endless tedium.”
I am happy to report that Music Director Jahja Ling and the San Diego Symphony’s lucidly detailed and energetically paced account of the “Great” C Major Symphony Sunday (March 1) afternoon changed my mind. Unlike Beethoven, who brilliantly developed his ideas with logic and inspiration, Schubert avoided the rigors of development by spinning out new melodies with prodigious ease.
Ling welcomed each new idea in Schubert’s immense tapestry with meticulously calculated dynamic shifts, affectionately highlighting these fresh woodwind themes, brass fanfares, and string soliloquies without losing the underlying propulsion of each movement. Conducting from memory, it was evident that he knew exactly what he wanted, and the orchestra responded with alacrity, providing a tight, balanced ensemble throughout this sprawling work.
In most symphonic orchestrations, the trombones fill a supporting role to the trumpets’ flashy assertions, but in the Ninth, Schubert gave the trombones significant thematic prominence, with the trumpets merely adding decorative commentary. Under the confident leadership of Principal Trombone Kyle Covington and with the muscle of Bass Trombone Michael Priddy, the low brass provided the grandeur the composer imagined for his valedictory symphonic statement.
Among current pianists who have championed the composers of the Classical era, Richard Goode has few peers, and his account of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25 in C Major proved admirable from every technical standpoint. He floated deftly phrased themes and pearly runs with apparent ease, and he even unleashed a hint of passion in his cadenzas. But this later concerto in Mozart’s career failed to ingratiate itself even under the skilled hands of a performer like Goode.
Mozart finished this concerto in 1786, the same year The Marriage of Figaro took Prague by storm, and the last movement suggests the humor of one of Cherubino’s arias. But overall, this concerto is too polite, too formal for its own good, and Goode could not make that better.
Ling opened the concert with Ellen Taaffe Zwillich’s “Upbeat!” a cleverly crafted curtain raiser for large orchestra that fulfilled its purpose handily.
This program on the Jacobs Masterworks Series was given February 27 & 28 and March 1, 2015, at the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall. The next program on this series will feature Pinchas Zuckerman as violinist and conductor in three different programs from March 21 to March 29, 2015.