Richard Goode in Recital: Almost Unalloyed Delight

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Schumann and Chopin: Richard Goode (piano). Royal Festival Hall, London, 12.2.2012 (MB)

SchumannKinderszenen, op.15
Kreisleriana, op.16
Chopin – Nocturne in E-flat major, op.55 no.2
Scherzo no.3 in C-sharp minor, op.39
Waltzes: op.64 no.3 in A-flat major; op.64 no.2 in C sharp minor; op.34 no.3 in F major
Ballade no.3 in A-flat major, op.47

Richard Goode’s contribution to the Southbank Centre’s International Piano Series offered almost unalloyed delight. Indeed, I should struggle – and see no reason why I ought to struggle – to find anything about which even to quibble from the first half, devoted to Schumann. The first piece of Kinderszenen welcomed us in, as if the welcome came directly – which, in a way, it did – from a wise and kindly storyteller. How was this accomplished, both here and later in the work? Through imagination, certainly, but also through well-nigh perfect weighting of every chord, and communication of the connections between every note. Memories of and sympathy towards childhood permeated performance and score alike. Pieces such as ‘Bittendes Kind’ and ‘Gluckes genug’ were delectable, thanks to Goode’s irreproachable tonal understanding. Voice-leading sounded impeccably natural, whilst judicious rubato made points without underlining. It is a cliché, doubtless, but ‘Träumerei’ proved the true, still centre to the work, not least to a marriage of pellucid, Murray Perahia-like tone with harmonic grounding that put me in mind of Wilhelm Kempff. Irresistible rhythmic impetus – and that includes harmonic rhythm – brought ‘Ritter von Steckenpferd’ to life. Goode’s placing of the opening chords in ‘Der Dichter spricht’ and his spinning of the line emerging therefrom brought a sense, despite horrendous bronchial contributions from sections of the audience, of magical reverie with direction. Sadly, some of the performance was blighted by noise from outside the hall: what sounded like drumming, at one point. But it is testimony to Goode’s performance that it rose above such distractions.

Kreisleriana opened with a movement by turns tempestuous and dreamily poetic, Florestan and Eusebius setting the scene for the work as a whole. The two ensuing intermezzi evoked a similar, continued contrast and competition, which yet retained common poetic ground. Scales were transmuted into something so much more in the third movement, whilst the fifth imparted a fine sense of a snapshot, neither begun nor completed, but rather revealed to us for a while. The opening of the final movement flickered like Schubert’s Irrlicht, though was always underpinned by absolute rhythmic security. Its passionate central section was striking for its unforced sincerity: that both of pianist and composer.

The Chopin works performed in the second half were different from those previously advertised (the E major Nocturne, op.62 no.2, and the third sonata). There was little to regret, though. The opening Nocturne, op.55 no.2, presented not an old world Chopin, but one whose sparkle, not least in the trills, looked forward to Debussy and Ravel. Dramatic rhetoric in the opening of the third Scherzo made me eager to hear Goode in Liszt; there was certainly a touch of Mephistopheles here, and the final climax proved as diabolical as anything in Liszt’s own music. One should not forget, though, the delicacy with which Goode made Chopin’s decoration sing: not ‘mere’ decoration, but true, melodic inspiration. The two op.64 waltzes performed (nos. 2 and 3) charmed without skating over the very real depths to be found here, especially the yearning of the C-sharp minor waltz. For me, the only disappointment was the A-flat Ballade. Its fluency impressed, but here, and only here, I sensed that there was more to the music than was being revealed on the present occasion. Perhaps I have been listening too often to the ever- rigorous Maurizio Pollini.

Mark Berry