Mostly Mozart Festival (2): Richard Goode Plays a Little Night Music, But Not Mozart

United StatesUnited States Mostly Mozart Festival (2) Bach, Schubert: Richard Goode (piano), Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse, Lincoln Center, New York, 31.7.2014 (SSM)


Bach: Preludes and Fugues Nos. 1 and 16 from The Well-tempered Clavier, Book II (c. 1740)
Schubert: Sonata in B-flat major, D.960 (1828)

In my last review I bemoaned the lack of intimacy which Richard Goode could not quite effectuate in a hall the size of Avery Fisher. There was no similar problem with his solo performance on Thursday evening in the 230-seat Stanley H. Kaplan Penthouse on the campus of the Juilliard School. While not nearly as small as the venue in the famous Schubertiade painting by Julius Schmid, the Kaplan complemented the Schubert sonata that Goode performed as the main event of the evening. The program was part of the Mostly Mozart Festival’s series of concerts at the Kaplan appropriately entitled “A Little Night Music.” The audience sits at tables of six and has a direct view of the performer against the backdrop of an illuminated New York skyline. A complementary glass of wine is offered before the hour-long concert begins at 10:00 PM.

Mr. Goode’s recital opened with two preludes and fugues from Bach’s Well-tempered Clavier. While I have no quarrel with his decision to play pieces from this work, I could easily have chosen a half dozen more stimulating and exciting preludes and fugues which would have offered a sharper contrast to the massive sonata that followed. Goode, from a generation where every Bach keyboard player was judged by his or her ability to play in the fleet, détaché style of Glenn Gould, was surprisingly heavy-handed. In fact, the sole point of similarity between Gould and Goode was their habit of singing and humming as they played, in complete disregard of the audience.

Questionable too was Goode’s use of the sustaining pedal. We know, for example, that Bach-specialist Angela Hewitt rarely uses the pedals and, when she does, uses them sparingly. Ironically, her favored instrument, made by Fazioli, has an additional fourth pedal, specially designed to dampen the sound without having an effect on the timbre. Andras Schiff, who in his earlier performances did use pedals, now avoids them completely. Clarity of line is critical for a successful interpretation of these pieces. They were written not only to prove their playability on an instrument that is equally tempered, but didactically as well, particularly in the fugues, to teach the separation of voices inherent in the counterpoint. Merging them through the use of sustaining pedals or lengthening the time for the notes to decay does just the opposite.

Ironically, many of the stylistic quirks that disappointed in Bach were a boon for Schubert as Goode gave a deeply personal reading of the last piano sonata. Employing moderate tempi and dynamics along with all the repeats, Goode forced the listener to either go with his flow or be left behind wondering when these endless reiterations of the primary motifs would end. Although written in the major key of B-flat, there is little of the lightness of a key signature that Schubert used for his String Trios and his upbeat Fifth Symphony. Even the sanguine fourth movement turns dark as it suddenly moves from p to ff with a series of F-minor chords that switch back just as suddenly to G-flat major. Goode dug into the music and brought out its soul. This was not a performance that Goode tried to make more accessible through technical finesse, crashing chords or dropping repeats. Those stylistic decisions can be left to the Richters, Pollinis and Kissins. Goode played this final sonata well aware that Schubert completed it in September of 1828 and died at the age of 31 in November of the same year.

Stan Metzger 

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