Thursday, March 8, 2012

Richard Goode Review

Richard Goode, piano
CSO Symphony Center
March 4, 2012

•Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15

•Seven Fantasies, Op. 116


•Nocturne in E flat, Op. 55/2
•Scherzo in C sharp minor, Op. 39
•Waltz in A flat, Op. 64/3
•Waltz in C sharp minor, Op. 64/2
•Waltz in F, Op. 34/3
•Ballade in A flat, Op. 47

I jumped at the opportunity to see Richard Goode at Symphony Center when I first heard he would be playing back before the beginning of the 2011-2012 season. But recently, when I saw that he wasn't going to be playing any Beethoven on the program for last Sunday's concert, I was a little disappointed. I don't think I need to bore anyone on here with Richard Goode's history with Beethoven, but I will say that he is part of the echelon of pianists who have performed and recorded all 32 Beethoven sonatas, and a few years ago when he was doing clinics at Northwestern, I saw his master class of Beethoven opus 109, and I was satisfied with what he brought.

The first time I heard him play that piece, I would describe his playing as a bit rough hewn–he handled the broad strokes of piano technique, but the superfine precision and resolute clarity in the minutia of intricate passagework wasn't as present as it is in many of the performers currently on the stage. Nonetheless, since Beethoven presents some of the most challenging musical problems in the piano repertoire, and I found his interpretations of Beethoven compelling, I obtained a ticket for his recital perforce, irrespective of his inclusion of Beethoven in his programming.

The Schumann Kinderszenen were beautifully performed. Goode's phrasing in these pieces was very very good. His sense of timing in moving from one piece to the next was well balanced, and though many of the pieces in this set are at slow or moderate speeds, the few fast ones were executed with wonderful clarity in the difficult parts. 

I heard him play these Brahms pieces when he was back at Northwestern in 2008, and I was not disappointed here. Again, there was vigor, boldness, tenderness and a lot of dark, strong colors in his playing–in short, exactly what I want these Brahms pieces to sound like.

His Chopin group was good, but in most terms, I've heard better; in spots, the nocturne didn't have enough dynamic space between the layers to sound cohesive, so it gave the impression of being cluttered, and he rushed the climaxes instead of letting us (his audience) luxuriate in them. Save the sonatas, the ballades and scherzi were some of the biggest pieces of Chopin's output for solo piano, and for a big piece at the end of his program, the A flat ballade didn't sound nearly epic enough; there was hardly any scope. The waltzes were played nicely, but there wasn't any "flutter" in them at all. Don't get me wrong, this is world class playing, but he didn't capture the lightness in these pieces that I think they want. 

Interesting, in some of the most musically demanding repertoire, Goode is among the best of the best, but his Chopin waltzes still came off as earthbound.

Lastly, (and ironically for this review), he didn't end with the C sharp minor scherzo, the only piece that showed any obvious instrumental display. It was big, dashing, and had an opportunity to show off one's octaves (in my experience, octaves are always a crowd pleaser), but he sandwiched it between a 3 waltzes and a nocturne. It may have been a noble experiment in terms of programming, but it didn't work for me; it left the end of the program, with the waltzes and the Ballade, feeling like a monument to anticlimax.

While I'm at it, I think I can say that though the first half of the concert was lovely to listen to, I grew tired of the series of miniatures Goode served up. It was like the concert was composed of two first-halves of two concerts. When we returned from intermission, the only thing we had to greet us was a handful of Chopin miniatures. I don't know why he chose to program a concert like this–almost all short pieces, and the few more extended works ordered in such a way as to give a sense of incompleteness. 

Perhaps for a renown Beethoven interpreter who established himself as a master of the largest of forms, this was his way to show us that he could master the short and delightful aspects of music as well as the serious and epic. Maybe he just wanted to play these pieces because he liked them, and thought he'd try something different from the usual concert programming standard. 

As an aside, Ruth Slenczynska, a musician of towering importance, once advised that a program can be composed of many shorter pieces, but that one should avoid putting too many familiar, sure-fire pieces on a program or the audience will become bored, like I did; a mixture is best. He showed us lots of beautiful sound and a variety of moods in his choices, but for what it's worth, when I come to see a concert at Symphony Center, I'm not alone in expecting to be impressed. Granted, those octaves in the Scherzo were nice but they were brief. I don't want a concert composed exclusively of fire and brimstone pieces, but I want some–a little spice in what I go to hear. He brought many flavors, but the music never got "hot" so to speak. 

Enough conjecture, I'll leave you with the obligatory play on words with the man's last name: In short, Goode was good, but his programming wasn't. 

p.s. Oh, while I'm at it, I have a question: What could a person be hoping to accomplish by putting this up as their publicity photo? This was an insert advertising to Meet Richard Goode after the concert. I can only imagine he didn't want anyone to show up.