Richard Goode at the Barbican – 11th May

Sonata in F, K533/494
Preludes [La puerta del Vino (Book 2/No.3); La danse de Puck (1/11); La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune (2/7); Général Lavine – eccentric (2/6)]
Sonata in E flat, Op.81a (Les adieux)
Sonata in A, D959

Richard Goode (piano)

Reviewed by: Ying Chang

Reviewed: 11 May, 2002
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

There is nothing easy about performing the ’Finale’ of Beethoven’s ’Les adieux’. The main theme must convey joyful reunion, yet it can sound banal – like a brass fanfare inappropriately transcribed – with repetitive left-hand chords that seem to have neither harmonic nor rhythmical variety; the coda must convey increased emotional intensity, yet it is slower and calmer than the rest of the movement. In Richard Goode’s hands, the ’Finale’ was revelatory, the main theme perfectly shaped into a canter, the chords being of harmonic elucidation not mere accompaniment, the whole a summation and release of the heart-searching of the opening two movements.

This was a recital of a uniformly high standard – Goode deserves his international reputation for precise, detailed, well thought-out playing, which is consciously classical in the best sense of the word. ’Les Adieux’ was something more.Whether in the assured slow introduction, the mercurial playing of the ’Allegro’ or in the slow movement, sculpted with painstaking care, Goode succeeded in combining a deep understanding of and affinity with Beethoven and a freshness of sound and attack. It is rare indeed for so familiar a work to sound so original. Goode always plays without preciousness or display; here he revealed details with new ears, without losing a profound structural vision. Goode played in such a way as to compel the listener to pay the closest attention.

Nothing in the rest of Goode’s recital – except perhaps the Bach encore, the ’Sarabande’ from the Fourth Partita, given with utter simplicity – quite reached the standard of his Beethoven. Goode’s good taste, his musical intelligence and, in passing, his exemplary and secure technique, pervaded each item. The Mozart sonata was arguably too cool. Goode’s refusal to give concessions to display may have robbed the first movement of some intensity or made the slow movement drag, although the straightforwardness of the ’Finale’ was successful. Goode’s Schubert was similarly lucid and committed, with the slow movement especially impressive in showing how the stormy episode emerges organically out of the lyrical main theme. Without showing the least eccentricity, Goode illuminated a movement that often seems puzzling.

Debussy’s Preludes were restrained and understated; Goode’s sympathy to change of mood, to refinement of detail betrayed an affinity with Goode’s friend, Mitsuko Uchida, who was in the audience.

It was in fact Alfred Brendel to whom Goode was compared in the publicity for this concert. While the connection is apt – both are deeply interested in the ’Viennese classics’ and both interpret with a deeply considered, intellectual approach – this recital, and ’Les adieux’ in particular, showed that Goode does not need to be presented as the foil or companion of any other performer. In a concert- and recorded-world dominated by the samey, the mechanically perfect and the banal, and challenged only by the wilful or mannered, Richard Goode is that rare thing, a genuinely unique pianist.

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