IN: Reviews

The Big G’s Three Bs


The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum presented sui generis pianist Stewart Goodyear in Bach, Boulogne, Beethoven, and his own Acabris! Acabris! Acabram! to a reverent audience yesterday afternoon.

Born and raised in Toronto to a Trinidadian mother and British father, Goodyear learned much from a rich family record collection spanning from the Beatles to Beethoven and beyond. And Beethoven would become Goodyear’s hero, his reason for going classical, his Diabelli Variations a triumph.

Both pianists and musicologists to whom we give great attention continue to speak of monuments in music. Between 1819 and 1823, Beethoven created the Diabelli Variations, 33 of them on that composer’s simple waltz. From an earlier BMint review [HERE ] we learn that “Goodyear has played the 32 sonatas from memory in a single day, and had planned to do the Liszt transcription of Beethoven’s Ninth with singers from the Handel and Haydn Society at Rockport in the 2020 Covid summer.” Goodyear, who has performed with many of the world’s major orchestras, made his Gardner debut this past Sunday.

Goodyear gave the U.S. premiere of his own Acabris! Acabris! Acabram! (2016). The title translates to a spell for getting lumberjacks stranded in the snow out of a deal with the devil. Goodyear was certainly not shy about generously mixing it up. Over nine minutes we met up with a number of Goodyear’s piano proclivities: flashy glissandos, serial machinations, liquid impressionism, Bartókian ways with folksong, to name some.

Stewart Goodyear (Andrew Garn photo)

Goodyear’s utmost caring for Joseph Boulogne occasioned a life-like look at Adagio in F Minor (c. 1777). An unexpected melodic move, a mid-phrase pause, a closely-knit embellishment felt completely and comfortably at home on Goodyear’s keyboard.    

Up to the final movement of the Bach “French” Suite No. 5 in G major, Goodyear posed more questions than answers. Keyboardists conceive of Bach in myriad ways, even spur-of-the-moment outcomes of the inspirational and improvisational. How Goodyear inflected the linear Bach often left me puzzling over what he meant. The Allemande’s and Sarabande’s right hand melodies would outweigh those of the left. The popular Gavotte came off weighty in the ever-bright Calderwood Hall. The intertwined notes of the Bourrée’s binary endings sidestepped harmonic richness. His thrilling Gigue both referenced a harpsichord all stops drawn and a piano all keys rocketing. 

In a novel move, the Steinway faced one way for the first half of the show and the opposite way for the second. What an idea for the Hall’s surround seating! 

Having heard Goodyear in the Diabelli Variations, opened the door to grasping the pianist’s total embrace of Beethoven. Knowing well all of his hero’s sonatas, including the “Hammerklavier, op. 106 with its extreme metronome markings, Goodyear played op. 120 on the up-tempo side. His across-the-keyboard virtuosity could also find lovingkindness, be it comical or postulating, mystifying, calm or over-excited.

It is not easy to inform listeners of the eventful, action-packed second part of Goodyear’s Gardner debut solo concert. Just know the Museum’s afternoon audience sat virtually still through the just-under-an-hour triumph. It all felt quite eerie that the composer-pianist giant L. van B. might be a spirit looming in Calderwood Hall. As in the same outer orbit into which he launched us, a mindful Goodyear recognized an understanding and admiring audience through their reverent applause.  

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chair of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University. He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. Thanks for the rousing review, Mr. Patterson! Like you, I too find it difficult to convey how magnificent Stewart Goodyear’s performance was, or how scintillating this marvelous program that culminated in a Diabelli beyond words. If the spirit of LvB were in the hall – and could listen! – I imagine it would have heard a full measure of the wicked humor, muscular invention, and dizzying architecture with which the work had been conceived.

    Comment by nimitta — March 8, 2022 at 9:23 am

  2. Just for the record- Stewart Goodyear made his Boston recital debut 3 or 4 years ago on the Boston Conservatory Piano Masters Series, like so many others. And on Tuesday April 12th, Boris Bloch will make his debut on the series.

    Comment by Michael Lewin — March 11, 2022 at 1:16 pm

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