Partita in C minor, BWV826
Partita in G, BWV829
Well-Tempered Clavier [selection; Three Preludes and Fugues]
Sonata in D, D850
Richard Goode (piano)
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: 14 May, 2006
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London
This was a recital of great seriousness: over an hour of uninterrupted Bach followed by a Schubert sonata whose conscious extraversion and good spirits did not disguise its large-scale ambition. Although Richard Goode may rightly be considered one of the doyens of this repertoire, he played with restraint, more modest than magisterial. The programme was therefore wonderfully sound in execution but lacked that last element of true transcendence.
Goode’s Bach was remarkably measured and cautious, more respectful and less authoritative than the Beethoven sonatas for which he is famous. Although he has recorded these partitas, he chose to play all the Bach from the score. Despite this, there were moments when control was momentarily lost – as in the ‘Prelude’ and ‘Courante’ of the C minor Partita. It was noticeable that the ‘Allemande’ from the First Partita, played as an encore, had far greater freedom and eloquence, perhaps because it was played from memory.
Nonetheless, Goode’s Bach had many merits – clarity of phrasing and of individual voices; a beguiling legato line, a winning gentleness, and serenity. There was though a lack of intensity in the Sarabandes, and of exuberance in the Fugues selected from the ’48’. Bach’s music plays itself, assuming one has the ability to deal with its technical and musical complexity; ultimately it may be a matter of taste as to how plain one likes to hear it. I have one unequivocal reservation: Goode sings along to the music; in slow, soft passages, it becomes an obbligato vocal line and distracts. Yes, Glenn Gould did this, too, but Goode does not have Gould’s demonic finger technique, nor the overpoweringly strong personality of a Richter or Sokolov.
An essay by Alfred Brendel attempts to explode a number of myths that relate to Schubert’s piano music, and especially the idea that it somehow reflects the gentle Austrian countryside. But it seems that D850 is closely connected with that countryside (having been composed during a holiday in the Salzkammergut); it is simply that in this case the countryside itself is far more dramatic and mountainous than the stereotypical ‘Sound of Music’ video-clip would suggest.
Goode is a master of Schubert; his playing of D850 demonstrated great familiarity; he gave a profoundly natural and idiomatic performance.
In the long first movement, Goode perfectly conveyed the sense of energy and motivic development, overlapping the phrases one into another; in the discursive slow movement he was a relaxed and expert guide through what was indeed a pastoral landscape. The awkwardly written scherzo had a few technical glitches, but the lilt of the Ländler trio and the pianissimo tone in the finale were both exemplary.
If I missed anything, it was the again the sense of an ineluctable imposition of character on the music. Whether by seizing indifferent writing by the scruff of its neck (Michelangeli), a religious fidelity to detail (Uchida) or a miraculously instinctive love of the music (Kempff), certain pianists have been able to transport Schubert above the inconsistency of his own invention – showing the genius, hiding the flaws.