Partita in E minor, BWV 830
Six Little Piano Pieces, Op.19
Sonata in E, Op.109
Preludes Book 1
Richard Goode (piano)
Reviewed by: Diarmuid Dunne
Reviewed: 6 December, 2004
Venue: Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
Essentially a collection of dance movements, Bach’s harpsichord partitas benefit enormously from an injection of life from the performer. Monotonic, glacial perfection may be some people’s cup of tea but not mine and it was refreshing that Richard Goode took a relaxed and somewhat carefree, improvisatory approach to the E minor Partita. The opening ‘Toccata’ was without affectation and with lovely voicing, the ‘Allemande’ was playful and the ‘Courante’ whimsically wayward. Indeed by the time the concluding ‘Tempo di Gavotte’ and ‘Gigue’ had arrived, Goode was clearly enjoying himself. Spontaneity ensued with tempos and velocities stretched and pulled; not a definitive performance, but original and musically interesting.
With so much offal masquerading as composition and so many ‘cognoscenti’ proclaiming the beauty of the emperor’s new clothes, it can be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff in ‘modern’ or atonal music. Richard Goode is a great interpreter and brought atmosphere to Schoenberg’s Six Little Piano Pieces. With impeccable dynamic control, notes hung in the air and suggested rather than stated. The concluding movement’s intimations of bells rose forth with mourning and poignancy to complete an evocative sound picture.
Beethoven’s Sonata, Op.109 is among his very greatest achievements. The final movement, a sublime theme and variations, balance the two relatively short opening ones. Goode was passionate in the opening Vivace with wonderful modulation of dynamics then easing to sweet lyricism and a gentle cantabile before erupting with fabulous virtuosity into the scherzo. In the Variations Goode again showed his masterful dynamic control: his gossamer pianissimo floats and surrounds you – a simple, gentle and comforting voice. The contrapuntal variations were especially fine, the fourth beautifully warm and the final one heralded a profound return to the main theme.
Debussy’s First Book of Preludes suggests a harp, the wind rising, falling and gusting, a pretty girl, a submerged cathedral and something Spanish. Maybe Goode wasn’t always the most imaginative guide to this music, although his sense of structure was infallible, and he was certainly sensitive, unpretentious and deeply musical. A Chopin encore, the E flat Nocturne (Op.55/2), proved a magical envoi.