Duke University’s cramped Page Auditorium may well have been less than full but a high percentage of area pianists made up the attentive audience for noted pianist Richard Goode‘s recital presented by Duke Performances. His Nonesuch recordings of the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas, a number of mature Mozart piano concertos and the J.S. Bach Partitas established Goode’s mastery of the Classical period repertoire. His program of well-known keyboard pieces of Robert Schumann (1810-1856) and diverse selections of Frédéric François Chopin (1810-1849) revealed equal command of the Romantic repertoire.

Literature influenced Schumann’s musical imagination to an extraordinary degree. The grotesque tales of E. T. Hoffmann inspired several of the composer’s more colorful works. Schumann described the 13 pieces in Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15 as “Souvenirs for those who have grown up.” They are charming, individual miniatures differing greatly in mood. In the playful “Hasche-Mann” (“Catch me if you can”), the music seems to chase its tail! The frequently played “Träumerei”(“Reverie”) is a timeless meditation, while “Ritter von Steckenpferd” (“Knight of the Hobby-Horse”) features a bluff majesty. The character Kreisler, a fictional conductor immortalized in stories by E.T. Hoffmann, inspired Schumann’s title for Kreisleriana, Eight Fantasies for Piano, Op. 16 which were composed in 1838. The composer was deeply in love with Clara Wieck, the nineteen-year old daughter of his piano teacher. Schumann’s titles came to him after he had composed a piece. According to Anna Menichetti, in notes for v.7 of Robert Schumann: The Complete Piano Works, the fictional conductor Kreisler is “practically a model of romantic music.” Schumann’s thoughts of Clara played a chief role in his creation of these eight pieces having “brusque shifts of mood and atmosphere.”

Goode played both Op.15 and Op. 16 with great élan and flair. He produced a beautiful tone and a broad palette of color. His dynamic range was remarkable. There was nothing routine about his interpretations or his playing as he brought these wonderful selections to vivid life. His performance of these two sets was extraordinarily spontaneous.

Goode’s program note for his broad sampling of Chopin is almost as fascinating as his performance of the selections was revelatory. He writes Chopin’s characteristic sound comes from “the bass and widely spaced inner voices provid(ing) the harmonic web on which the treble voice can float.” This is due to the sustaining pedal, and Chopin is the only composer who marks all the pedal markings into his scores.

The Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 55/2 often imitates an intertwining vocal duet. Goode gave full value to the richness and chromatic quality as he spun the melodic lines. Chopin’s Scherzo in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39/3 reminds me more of the ivory-storming Liszt. It was dedicated to pianist Adolphe Gutman who was notable for “his powerful assaults on the keyboard. Even more impressive than Goode’s full-throttle playing was his hushed scaling down of dynamics for the Lutheran-sounding chorale and its cascading arpeggios between outbursts.

Three contrasted waltzes were played as a group. The flow of Waltz in A-flat, Op. 64/3,  is interrupted by “a jaunty dotted figure in C” suggestive of a mazurka or polonaise.” The beloved Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op.64/2, “alternates a seductive opening strain and an agitated perpetual motion.”  Goode says Waltz in F, Op. 34/3, “chases its tail brilliantly.” It strikes me as a waltz on caffeine, all hyperactive. Goode brought out all the playful qualities of these brief gems.

Chopin composed four Ballades which have a narrative quality suggestive of a story being told in sound. They are analogous to the orchestral tone poem. Three of the ballades have an epic grandeur or are tragic in tone. In contrast, Ballade in A-flat, Op. 47/3 is elegant and noble. A gentle opening melody leads to an oscillating motive. This turns stormy before giving way to a waltz episode. The first tune makes a magical return just before the exultant conclusion. Goode’s performance was like that of a master story-teller. Every detail was in its proper place and was gauged against the over-all arch of the keyboard tone poem.

Goode rewarded the prolonged and well-earned standing ovation with a vivid performance of an unidentified mazurka.

Richard Goode will repeat this program Saturday April 21 in Watson Hall, UNC School of the Arts. Call the UNCSA Box Office at 336-721-1945 to reserve seats.