United Kingdom Beethoven: Richard Goode (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 2.6.2013 (MB)
Piano Sonata no.30 in E major, op.109
Piano Sonata no.31 in A-flat major, op.110
Bagatelles, op.119, nos 6-11
Piano Sonata no.32 in C minor, op.111
Last year I was fortunate enough to hear Maurizio Pollini play the final three Beethoven sonatas, both in London and in Salzburg. Richard Goode, adding five of the op.119 Bagatelles, offered, if not quite the white heat of Pollini, then musical satisfaction of a degree it is a privilege to hear.
The E major sonata, op.109 opened with clarity that would be a hallmark of Goode’s performance throughout: not clarity for its own sake, but at the service of delineating and indeed generating Beethoven’s forms. Married to a tonal richness that at times put me in mind of a Bösendorfer, sound and touch simply seemed ‘right’. The final slow movement proved as fine an example of inevitably ‘following on’ from the concentration of the first two movements as one could hope for. That Gluckian ‘noble simplicity’ so necessary to any performance of this movement was an abiding characteristic, albeit born of almost immeasurably more complex musical means. The balance, or rather dialectic, between those two opposing forces is the stuff of Beethoven’s music, here and in so many instances; such was how it sounded under Goode’s stewardship.
As Misha Donat put it in his programme note, ‘If for Beethoven E major was a serenely radiant key, then A flat major was his “soft” key’. That shone through in Goode’s performance, though the sublimity of Beethoven’s utterances remained. The first movement’s Romanticism came more strongly to the fore than is often the case; it may be in sonata form, but it took upon itself elements of the ‘character piece’, the tensions often apparent in Beethoven’s sonata writing, if not suspended, then elevated into a more seraphic realm. A splendidly flexible, though always coherent, account of the ‘Allegro molto’ scherzo gave way to a finely-judged balance between aria and fugue in the finale. Disruption was not so much the order of the day as it might have been in Pollini’s radically modernist hands; but the teasing out of sometimes unexpected kinship between the two groups of material brought its own rewards. (In practice, of course, a performance will adopt elements of both approaches, but overall tendencies tend to define one’s response.)
The final six op.119 Bagatelles offered not respite, but an intensification of their own. Typically described as ‘chips from the master’s workbench,’ they are far more than that: development is certainly not eschewed, yet concentration of utterance both in work and in Goode’s performance, ensured that they took upon themselves a crystalline, enigmatic quality of utterance not so very distant from Webern. Trills, arpeggios, syncopations: they are familiar from Beethoven’s more extended late music, yet they sound almost as if new material. Distillation is the key here, and so it was in performance, seemingly completed before it had begun.
Beethoven’s C minor daemon returned with a vengeance in the first movement of the op.111 sonata, as if to remind us that searing drama stands as much at the heart of his late music as that of his ‘middle’ and indeed ‘early’ periods – and indeed to deconstruct that periodisation, both necessary and questionable. The sense of development Goode brought to the entire movement put me in mind of an extraordinary performance I heard a few years ago from Daniel Barenboim; if Goode were more measured in his general ‘voice’, Beethoven’s spirit, anything but placid, nevertheless spoke in similar tones. The second movement variations emerged as release, but also as complementary, that fine sense of balance to which I have referred above again apparent in Goode’s ability both to maintain overall line and direction and yet to impart ‘character’, again in an almost Romantic, Schumannesque, sense, to individual variations. Wisdom has clearly been earned through lengthy consideration of these miraculous scores; there could be little doubt that this Wigmore Hall audience was nourished, intellectually and spiritually, by its dispensation.