United Kingdom Schubert, Chopin, Debussy, Richard Goode (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 24.02.14 (RB)
Schubert – Impromptu in C minor D899 No. 1 z
Klavierstück in E Flat minor D946 No. 1
Impromptu in G Flat D899 No. 3
Klavierstück in C D946 No. 3
Chopin – Mazurka in B Flat Op 17 No. 1
Mazurka in B minor Op 30 No. 2
Mazurka in A Flat Op 41 No. 3
Mazurka in C Sharp minor Op 30 No. 4
Polonaise-fantaisie in A Flat Op 61
Debussy – Préludes Book 1
Richard Goode is one of the grand elder statesmen of the piano and for this recital he performed some of the most famous miniatures in the repertoire by three very diverse composers. He opted to read from the score for both the Schubert and Debussy and had a page turner on hand – Richter did the same towards the end of his career so Goode was in distinguished company.
Goode is a leading exponent of the music of the First Viennese School so he was on home ground with the Schubert. The first Impromptu had an emotional directness and honesty and there was a muscularity to the playing which reminded me of Goode’s great mentor, Rudolf Serkin. The shaping of the melody was exquisite, the dynamic contrasts scrupulously observed and the handling of modulations absolutely gorgeous. The opening of the first Klavierstück had a lightness and transparency while the central section had a radiant glow. The performance of the Impromptu in G flat was an unforgettable experience – the warmth of tone, perfect layering of sound, magical handling of the modulations and the drama in the central section made one feel the piece could not be played in any other way. In the final Klavierstück Goode brought out the playful quality of the syncopations while the central section had a reflective, poetic lilt.
As well as studying with Serkin, Goode was also a pupil at the Curtis Institute of Mieczyslaw Horszowski, who was a fine Chopin exponent and no doubt a key influence in this music. In the first of the set of four Mazurkas, he did a marvellous job in bringing out the elements of whimsy and fancy in the middle section, while the third was played with a patrician elegance that somehow epitomises Chopin. The fourth in C sharp minor is one of the most famous mazurkas, beloved of Horowitz and others, and Goode deployed a silky touch at the opening while the middle section was played with aristocratic gusto. The Polonaise-fantaisie was the longest piece on the programme and here Goode brought a spontaneity and improvisatory feel to the music with each of the contrasting sections vividly characterised. Some of the sections appeared rushed and the passagework was a little untidy in one or two places but the innate musicality and understanding more than compensated for this.
I do not normally associate Goode with Debussy but what a brilliant interpreter of this music he is. An English admirer described Debussy’s own performance of Danseuses de Delphes as “soft, deep touch which evoked full, rich, many-shaded sonorities”. I cannot think of a better description of Goode’s performance. There is an ongoing debate as to whether Voiles refers to ‘Sails’ or ‘Veils’ – Goode suggested both by making the music float and waft while at the same time using the whole tone harmonies to create veiled effects. The articulation and delicacy with which he opened Le vent dans le plaine was remarkable, while we were allowed to luxuriate in the suffocating opiates of Les Sons et les parfums tournent dans l’air du soir. Les collines d’Anacapri was quite exceptional: the crystalline delicacy of the opening section bore comparison with Cortot while the brilliant Neapolitan sun-drenched flavour of the close was played with relish.
Arrau left a mesmerising recording of Des pas sur la neige and while Goode created some lovely tone colours and gave us some exquisite shaping of the floating melody he was not able to match the poetic intensity of the great Chilean master. La fille aux cheveux de lin had a flowing simplicity and elegance but I thought the tempo was a little rushed in a one or two places. In La serenade interrompue Goode gave us some vivid textural and tonal contrasts and did an excellent job in bringing out the Spanish flavour of the music. He conveyed the grandeur of La cathédrale Engloutie, conjuring some majestic sonorities from his Steinway in the middle section, but I was wondering if there might be an even greater variety of tone colours and more refined layering of sound – I particularly admire Michelangeli’s recording. La danse de Puck was outstanding with Goode bringing out the mischievous caprice and mercurial lightness in the score. In Minstrels the good-natured fun and entertainments of the musicians Debussy witnessed parading through the streets of Eastbourne shone through.
Exceptional playing from one of the great masters of the piano.