American pianist Richard Goode played a remarkable recital at Rockport Music’s Shalin Liu Performance Center Saturday. Not for a single moment did he fail to enthrall and enlighten.
Goode invariably invites one to join him on a journey; Saturday’s first half took us on a mini-tour of the Classical period, carefully curated to lead an engaged listener from light-hearted early Joseph Haydn through late Beethoven by way of Mozart. Goode began with two Haydn sonatas which, though he wrote them both in 1773, sounded quite different from one another. The Sonata in A Major HOB XVI:26 seemed the earlier of the two, and abounded with high-spirited Haydn felicities. Rapid passagework was crystal-clear in articulation and reminded one of so many beautiful strings of shining pearls. No cloud shaded the sunniness. Fantasia-like in its opening moments, its second movement Menuet al Revescio (Reverse Minuet) borrows from the composer’s 47th Symphony; there, as here, he scored the minuet and trio twice forward and then twice backward. One was reminded anew of Haydn’s surpassing creativity.
The first movement of the ensuing Sonata in D Major HOB: XVI:24 began with typical Haydn sunniness, but at its end Goode made a significant pause. The second movement then rose to a very different emotional plane, one that prefigured the pathos often encountered in late Mozart. This helped make this sonata sound “bigger” and deeper than its predecessor, thus leading presciently―almost inevitably―to Mozart’s remarkable Rondo in A Minor, K. 511 from 1787.
Keith Horner, Rockport’s excellent annotator, wrote:
The title of the Rondo in A minor…gives away no secrets. It is a profound piece, written on a large scale. The music is overlaid with a sense of melancholy — resignation, even — as though every repetition of its poignant theme, increasingly elaborated as it reappears, brings the inevitable closer.
Just so. Written just before Mozart’s achingly personal and haunted G Minor String Quartet, this Rondo seemingly comes from a world much darker and deeper than Haydn’s. Its seven-minute journey through a deep forest of unanticipated harmonic twists and turns, sounds so radical that a perceptive audience member commented that she would not have guessed that Mozart wrote it. Goode deeply and revealinigly probed its every dark recess with knowing aplomb.
We then heard Beethoven’s towering romantic edifice, his Piano Sonata No. 28 in A Major, Op. 101. With this sonata Beethoven broke new ground for the piano, as he continued to do so for his remaining four sonatas. This work, written in 1816 might seem to languish in the long shadow of its next-to-come No. 29, known by its nickname “Hammerklavier.” Yet at the top of the manuscript of No. 28 the same Germanic term appears ― for the first time in Beethoven’s piano sonatas ― next to the Italian “Pianoforte.” Like No. 29, this sonata tests all of a performer’s talent. Here interpretive challenges meet equally formidable technical requirements.
Goode’s recordings of all 32 of Beethoven’s sonatas stand near or at the top of the heap, and this Rockport recital showed us all why. He seemingly has no fear and owns the means to meet all of Beethoven’s many requirements. Here Goode again demonstrated his gifts as a storyteller, bringing along his listeners. Across the 20-minute span Goode wooed us with astonishing sonority and emotion.
Beethoven instructs the player to play the first movement’s gentle conversation “…mit der innigigsten Empfindung (with innermost expressiveness), and that Goode supplied in abundance. The ensuing Vivace alla Marcia mercurially marched forth with force and powerful rhythm. The Sonata’s third movement, marked “Langsam und Sehnsuchstvoll” (slowly and full of longing) is asked to be played entirely una corda. The softness of volume only amplified the music’s innate pathos, which Goode drew forth with consummate mastery. The final movement followed immediately, a powerful finalé full of imitative fugue-like counterpoint, commandingly dispatched with hardly a sign of strain. The audience rightly cheered.
After intermission Goode offered the rarely encountered V Mlách (In the Mists) by the Moravian composer Leoš Janáček (1854-1928). He has fascinated me since I long ago first encountered his spectacular Glagolitic Mass and the grand Sinfonietta with its many extra brass instruments. Janáček’s music has a unique sound that cannot be confused with any other composer. His style encompasses metrical irregularity and marked contrast between high and low sonorities, and a sharply differentiated palette of moods. A man of passion and fervor, he fell in love in his 60s with a much younger woman to whom he wrote some 700 letters. This brief four-movement work from 1912 transmits much of this passion.
In Janáček, the most volatile of composers, transitions from dark to light, anger to tenderness, can come in the middle of a phrase. The often-jagged rhythms are inspired by those of the Czech language, carefully transcribed by the composer in his notebooks. It is music of deep affinity with the natural world, and also of great longing and nostalgia.
One could easily discern Goode’s admiration merely by listening and watching him perform this gritty and often downcast music. He brought this searching and moving music to our ears with total involvement.
Goode closed with remarkable performances of six Debussy Préludes. A dreamlike haze pervades these colorful works, only occasionally breaking through the impressionistic scrim. To Les collines d’Anacapri Goode brought brilliant, sunny color; to De pas sur la neige quiet, slowness, depth and pale blue; Les fées sont d’exquises danseuses danced lightly, fleetly and gravity-free; La terrasse des audiences du clair de lune glowed, its terraced parallel chords illuminated by a moonlit perfumed stasis. Ondine was liquid and frolicsome; and Feu d’artifice colorful and brilliant―the finest interpretation I have heard in concert.
Cheers, whistles, and whoops ensued in a richly deserved outpouring of thanks. With a gorgeously colored Chopin Nocturne, Goode called it a night.
Not since I heard the late Ivan Moravec in concert have I attended so wholly successful a piano recital. The programming impeccably led from the 18thcentury into the 20th. Goode’s interpretive and technical gifts are unsurpassed, his emotional involvement total, and not once in the treasurable evening of superb music making, did I hear a false note or careless gesture.
John W. Ehrlich is music director of Spectrum Singers, which he founded 37 years ago. He has been a singer and conductor in the Boston area for more than 45 years.