Goode on G.A.S.: “The Compleat Pianist”

William Thomas Walker

It has been gratifying that with a fall appearance with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra on Duke’s Artists Series and the March 4 solo recital on the Great Artists Series in the A.J. Fletcher Opera Theater, Triangle music lovers have belatedly been given access to the full artistry of the renowned pianist Richard Goode. Hailed by critics for his performances and recordings of the complete Beethoven piano sonatas, the late Schubert piano sonatas, and an on-going series of Mozart piano concertos with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, he has often been classed among the exalted few as a “pianist’s pianist.” I first heard Goode in 1997, when he was among the musicians on the Spoleto Festival USA Chamber Music Series in the Dock Street Theatre in Charleston, S.C. He had been on the very first Festival too, twenty years before that, when most of the players chosen by Charles Wadsworth were also members of his pioneering Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.

This critic will have to get a pen with its own light source; because Goode’s entire concert took place in a darkened hall with only the usual elaborate pattern of decorative stage lighting, no vast amount of notes could be taken. The concert opened with two selections from My Lady Nevell’s Book by William Byrd – the 2nd Pavan and Galliard in G Major and the 3rd Pavan and Galliard in A Minor. Anne Midgette, writing about another Goode recital in the March 4, 2003, issue of the New York Times , reported these as “sound(ing) surprisingly heavy,” but I was delighted with the light touch Goode brought to these slow and fast pieces more often heard on a harpsichord. He suggested the sound of a lute stop during the 2nd Pavan, and the second Galliard was alive with the sense of that dance.

Foreshadowing later Romanticism of Beethoven and Schubert, his dynamic reading of Mozart’s Sonata in A Minor, K. 310, brought out the tremendous stylistic and emotional transformation in this pivotal work of 1778.

Instead of the scheduled, full-fledged “late-period” Beethoven Sonata No. 30 in E Major, Op. 109, Goode played instead the Sonata No. 28, in A, Op. 101, described by Michael Steinberg (in program notes for Goode’s classic set) as having been “written on the bridge from the second period to the third.” In notes for Charles Rosen’s set, Ulrike Brenning describes this sonata as “confirm(ing) the new direction in his writing for the medium,” continuing, “The Classical balance between the movements is superseded by a sense of development whose whole thrust is directed towards the final movement.”

In each of the works by these first three composers, Goode adapted his playing to the appropriate style, painting each with a unique brush and recreating in each a unique sound world. This was true throughout the whole concert to an extraordinary degree. It was consummate musicianship, presenting a broad fusion of all elements that lead to correct style.

The second half of the concert brought other sound worlds. Perhaps there was less “haze” than usual in the five selections by Claude Debussy but, after all, the composer had some testy things to say about those who tried to straightjacket him too closely within the “impressionist” label. Spain was evoked by the rhythm of “La soirée dans Granada” (from Estampes ).”Ondine” (No. 8 of Préludes , Bk. II) sounded appropriately aquatic, while a guitar serenade was the subject of “La serenade interrompue” (Bk. I, No. 9). In “Des pas sur la neige” (Bk. I, No. 6), Goode projected what Frank Dawes, in Debussy , notes is “the almost constant feature of a short appoggiatura in the accompanimental matter impart(ed) a weary drag to the rhythm,” like walking in deep snowdrifts. Far-off bells were suggested in “Les collines D’Anacapri” (Bk. I, No. 5).

There was nothing at all heavy about Goode’s performance of six works by Chopin, wherein beautiful singing tone was combined with agile articulation and a sure sense of rhythm. After the inventive Impromptu No. 3 in G-flat Major, he played the complete four Mazurkas of Op. 30, and the full-blown Romantic style was on display in the famous Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat Major, Op. 61.

After a prolonged standing ovation from an audience that had sat with rapt attention, Goode richly and wittily rewarded the crowd with three encores. Brahms’s Intermezzo in C, Op. 119, was followed by the well-known Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 17. The perfect behavior of the audience was sullied by some idiot who had failed to silence a “devil-box” or cell phone that chirped an insipid tune as a crass counterpoint to the divine mazurka. This was the only GAS concert that hadn’t been preceded with a verbal call to silence all pagers, cell phones and watches. As a clever send-off, Goode played “Good Night” from Janàcek’s In the Mists . I hope that Goode’s earlier appearance in Durham and this recital will inspire presenters to engage this master musician regularly in the Triangle. The concert fully lived up to the title of the series, Great Artists.