Thursday, October 16, 2008

Review: Richard Goode piano recital

By Bob Kingston

The noted American pianist Richard Goode was in town earlier this week to launch Portland Piano International’s 30th anniversary season with a pair of recitals at the Newmark Theater. A relatively small crowd showed up to the second of the two on Tuesday evening, which featured works by Bach, Chopin, and Schubert. Turnout at weekday concerts can be notoriously low, especially if the performer in question is not a household name, but those in attendance Tuesday had the chance to sample some truly outstanding playing.

Goode’s reputation in this country rests largely on his highly regarded interpretations of Mozart and Beethoven, but it’s evident from the works opening the program—the Preludes and Fugues in F major and B major from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier—that he has a keen ear for the finer details of Bach’s solo keyboard pieces as well. He showed a strong preference for inner voices, though never once did he allow this to disrupt the balance or flow of the top and bottom lines. Notable, too, were those moments where he introduced subtle shifts in dynamics and articulation to enliven some of Bach’s denser contrapuntal textures. Although Goode clearly drew on the full range of the modern piano in these performances—witness his rather liberal use of the pedal—the music still managed to sound light, clear, and wonderfully fresh.

While some in the audience might have found Goode’s more restrained approach to Chopin a bit unsatisfying, I thought it offered an entirely different way of perceiving and appreciating this music. The three mazurkas Goode chose to start his Chopin set—quite literally, I might add, as he announced from the stage that the ones listed in the program were from the previous evening’s concert—weren’t flashy showpieces by any means, but were rather more intimate, even brooding, examples of the genre. Much as he had done with his Bach interpretations, by focusing our attention on the music rather than on the performer, Goode emphasized the rich interplay of individual melodic lines, and in doing so made an important connection between the two composers. His performance of the Op.54 Scherzo in E major, while not lacking in fire, was also striking for its sharp contrasts.

Goode’s 1985 recording of the Schubert Sonata in B flat major was something of a revelation for me when I first encountered it almost two decades ago, and hearing this late masterpiece performed live on Tuesday reminded me why he’s one of its most compelling interpreters. What came through in his reading was not only a deep and abiding concern with lyricism and the lyrical impulse, but also an understanding of how to sustain the composer’s complex musical argument over a long span of time. Very few pianists I know are able to control the large dimensions of Schubert’s last sonata with such ease and grace.

Bob Kingston is a Portland-based musicologist and critic.

1 comment:

David Rochester said...

Hmmmm. I was at both the Sunday and Tuesday concerts, being an admirer of Goode, and found both to be largely disappointing, as did my companions on each occasion. I felt that there was no overall concept or narrative through-line for either the Polonaise or the Scherzo on Tuesday, and none of the subtle variations of color and texture that Chopin's music requires. Particularly troublesome was the long static section in the middle of the Polonaise, which is terrifyingly bleak in the hands of a great Chopin interpreter, but which seemed like a pointless two pages in the score during Goode's performance. Sunday's presentation of the Bach French suite #5 was truly lovely, but the Nocturnes suffered from a contrapuntal texture that utterly destroyed their lyricism; Goode's rubato does not appear to have any natural sense of breath.

I agree that the Mazurkas were beautifully performed ... they're dense little pieces, rich with meaning, and he clearly has a great love for them.

I left the Newmark feeling that Goode hadn't really "shown up" for the concert in any genuine way. The last recital I saw there was Marc-Andre Hamelin, and what I remember best about him was that he played a Haydn sonata with pretty much the wrong technique for Haydn ... he has a fantastic technique for late Romantic and 20th-century composers, but doesn't have the delicate sense of line and shading that really brings Classical piano to life. Nevertheless, he loved the piece so much, and was clearly so profoundly delighted to be playing it, that the audience bubbled over with joy despite the fact that it wasn't really a great performance, technically speaking. But he truly showed up for it.

I don't think Goode really showed up.