Richard Goode at Wigmore Hall

The Well Tempered Clavier, Book II – Prelude and Fugue in G minor, BWV885
French Suite in G, BWV816
Mazurkas – in C, Op.56/2; in E, Op.6/3; in A minor, Op.7/2; in A flat, Op.7/4; in C minor, Op.56/3
Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op.39
Nocturne in D flat, Op.27/2
Polonaise-Fantasie in A flat, Op.61
Piano Sonata in B flat, D960

Richard Goode (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 25 February, 2009
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Richard Goode. Photograph: Sascha GusovRichard Goode doesn’t do lightweight; generous programmes, too, and austere lighting – a dimly lit platform and one light at the rear of the Hall (and even this was extinguished at the artist’s request for the second half). In, Bach, played from scores, Goode also produced some delightfully out-of-tune moans and groans at particularly expressive moments.This was hardly a standard, production-line recital. Nor was the music-making. Recently, at the Barbican Hall, Murray Perahia gave a masterclass in the art of playing Bach on the piano, and Goode was no less revelatory. In the Prelude he gradually eased the angularity of the line and the Fugue was uncompromising in its monumental power. The French Suite commenced with a lilting, limpid account of the ‘Allemande’ in which repeats brought new phrasing and emphasis, while the ‘Courante’ danced rather sternly. Beauty of tone, exquisite legato and rubato characterised the ‘Sarabande’ and the Suite culminated in a tour de force ‘Gigue’ in which dynamic variation conveyed a commanding underlying logic.

Goode’s Chopin was fascinating. Throughout the Mazurkas there was subtle rubato, elfin grace and sparkle and, in the incredibly sophisticated C minor, a Bach-like extemporisation. The opening of the Scherzo was stark and the contrasting chorale gorgeously voiced, with each transition perfectly judged. Songlike, liquid translucence characterised the Nocturne and almost every facet of the Polonaise-Fantasie was cogently and almost coolly realised.

But, and it is a big ‘but’, Goode is almost too restrained for Chopin. The coda of the Scherzo and the climax of the Polonaise-Fantasie lacked power and perhaps a true sense of fantasy was absent.

Schubert’s ultimate Sonata opened with a flowing tempo, the longest gap between the two halves of the first subject I have heard and the trill was restrained. There was no tempo change for the second subject, and, regrettably, the exposition repeat was not observed. However the fugato-like approach to the start of the development was striking as were the right-hand arabesques and the seamless transition to the recapitulation. The tempo for the Andante was flowing, with no tempo change for the central section and, yet, despite the haunting rocking, lullaby-like song that Goode conjured from the keys, there was also an underlying sense of danger, which I have never suspected before. Nor have I heard the final note sustained for what sounded like an eternity.

The scherzo brought subtle dynamic and rhythmic variation. Qualities that were in abundance in the finale, combined with some beautiful right-hand decoration of the second subject and surreal phrasing in a big rallentando before the coda. This was Schubert without big gestures and yet there was a sense of tension, danger and emotion behind every note. Bach and Chopin returned for the encores, again with an effortless poise and grace.

Goode’s Schubert – indeed everything he plays – is challenging and yet he has that rare ability to make you believe that what he does is right – he is a great-thinking pianist and artist.

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