Richard Goode – Homage to Chopin

Das wohltemperierte Klavier [The Well-Tempered Clavier] – Book II: Prelude and Fugue in C, BWV870
French Suite in B minor, BWV814
Mazurkas – in C, Op.24/2, in G, Op.50/1, in E minor, Op.41/2 & in B minor, Op.33/4
Impromptu in F sharp, Op.36
Rondo in A minor, K511
Scherzo in E, Op.54
Douze Études – No.11: Pour les arpèges composés; No.5: Pour les octaves
Nocturnes – in C minor, Op.48/1 & B, Op.62/1
Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op.44

Richard Goode (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 27 February, 2008
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Queen Elizabeth Hall

“Whenever I come back to Chopin … I feel a special kind of gratitude. How lucky for us pianists that Chopin needed only our instrument to express his vast world of form and feeling…”. Richard Goode’s words – that carried through his recital into deeply authoritative performances in which ‘form and feeling’ were indivisible.

Richard Goode. Photograph: Jennifer TaylorThis was a superb evening – Goode at the height of his powers – that during the interval found a colleague likening him to a mix of Rubinstein and Gilels while reminding that Goode was once branded as “America’s answer to Alfred Brendel”. Yet, while such exalted comparisons can only be taken as flattery, Goode’s immersion in the music – and its potent undercurrents – and his concern for wholeness is an object-lesson for displaying total identification with his chosen music without smothering or abusing it. Yes, OK, that’s also Brendel to a tee.

In his programme, Goode elected composers whom Chopin “revered” and one that he “inspired”; Debussy dedicated his Études to “Chopin’s memory”. To his advertised programme Goode added the Prelude and Fugue; it made a richly ornate beginning, both simple and divine, the Fugue vividly characterised. The B minor French Suite found line and ornamentation ‘as one’, the slow music unfolded with eloquence, the faster movements with robust vitality, Goode’s facial contortions living the music – one can look away – although his snorting noises have to be lived with and are negligible compared with the music-making.

Richard GoodeGoode now plays Bach from the score – maybe to take inspiration from the printed musical patterns – and gave the rest of the recital from memory. The four Mazurkas were particular highlights, enigmatically dancing except when the rhythms are at their most pungent; Goode has the measure of this elusive music, finding its roots, pride, pathos and melancholy without making it obvious. The Impromptu was wonderfully expressive until a thunderstorm arrived, which reminded of (or anticipated) Liszt’s Funérailles. Mozart’s Rondo was a revelation, Goode taking the Andante marking literally and investing a real tread through returning melody and contrasting episodes, suggesting that decoration was extemporised while sucking the listener further and further into a ‘song without words’ that seems so much more than its innocent title suggests. Similarly in the last of Chopin’s Scherzos, technical prestidigitation only served to reveal Chopin’s rarefied thoughts as all-encompassing and fully blossoming. Some of the best piano-sound I have heard in this hall, too, maybe because the normal behind-the-piano screens were removed to allow for the ‘extra’ audience housed in ‘choir’ seats.

The long first half (closing with the Scherzo) gave way to a second that was over in a flash, half the length and including another Chopin Nocturne (Opus 55/Number 2) as an encore. If the Mazurkas and Mozart Rondo had been revelations, so too this pair of Debussy Studies, which might be built from arpeggios and octaves but were musically transporting – ‘arpeggios’ shimmered and painted pictures with insouciance and jazz and ‘octaves’ deployed powerful declamation. The two advertised Nocturnes perhaps lacked repose – and the very quietest dynamics – but in the C minor the change of colour (to deep purple) en route to a feverish climax will stay long in the memory, so too the harmonically-freakish introduction to the B major, which Goode made much of (and smiled in satisfaction) to lead-off a radiant and perfumed journey before completing the recital with the F sharp minor Polonaise, here given with glorious sweep, tenacious attack – incendiary sometimes – and also yielding to a world beyond this one.

Richard Goode remains in London for a lecture-recital (29 March, Queen Elizabeth Hall) and a masterclass (1 March, Purcell Room, at 3 p.m.) and returns for a two-piano recital with Jonathan Biss on 31 May (QEH). The current International Piano Series runs until June and includes Andsnes, Uchida, Zimerman, Pollini and Brendel. Not a bad line-up!

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