Architecture and Sensibility in Richard Goode’s Bach

CanadaCanada Bach: Richard Goode (piano), Vancouver Playhouse, 28.2.2016. (GN)

Richard Goode © Sasha Gusov

Bach, Prelude and Fugue, BWV 870 and 880, from Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II; French Suite No 5 in G major, BWV 816; 15 Sinfonias, BWV 787-801; Partita No. 2 in C minor, BWV 826; Italian Concerto, BWV 971

Encore: ‘Sarabande’ from French Suite No.1 in D minor, BWV 812

All pianists play Bach when they are young, and some make a full career of it. Yet many great pianists specialize elsewhere and then return to Bach selectively in their maturity. This has been true of artists as diverse as Sviatoslav Richter, Wilhelm Kempff, Alfred Brendel, Murray Perahia and, on this occasion, Richard Goode. What makes the venture back to Bach so interesting is that it provides a revealing lens through which to see what the performer is made of as a whole and to identify the essential sensibilities one finds throughout all their work. Typically, the proceeds are very ‘pianistic’ and possibly what might be termed ‘romantic’, but I am always amazed by the range of styles that can do this composer justice, no matter what purists might insist. Richard Goode has always been splendid in Beethoven, and a lot else too, and many times I did feel his Beethoven in his Bach: the sterling sense of architecture, the point of his phrases and the sheer intelligence and patience in exposition. This was not rhythmically obsessed Bach, nor was it always pedal-light; we were given something richer and broader, more deliberative and thoughtful, and thoroughly satisfying in the way it reveled in the artistry of the Richard Goode we already know and cherish.

The French Suite No. 5 showed the variety in Goode’s interpretative and tonal palette. In many of the dances, one noted the lovely suspension and shading in his lines, and the pianist’s ability to give each note it’s due. The Sarabande had a definite searching quality, and its cleanness and balance in articulation were equally notable. The more robust dances were given an athletic projection, brought off with considerable energy and somewhat greater sharpness. Even with speeds sometimes on the slow side and phrases often beautifully rounded and shaped, I still felt this was a more objective Bach than a romantic one. Goode exhibited an expressive gentleness in his line at many points, but one got the feeling that the music was etched in stone inside. I never felt his rubato was excessive.

I was also taken by the great variety in the 15 Sinfonias, not a grouping we hear that often. There was a searching quality to some of the pieces, a pointed perkiness to others, and a marvelous range of dynamics and phrasing throughout. It was interesting how Goode payed great attention to counterpoint  ̶  without allowing the counterpoint to ever draw attention to itself. The only complication here was Goode’s ongoing ‘vocalizations’. Perhaps they were obtrusive at points, but I personally didn’t find them that distracting. Unfortunately, one patron did, hurling a vocal dagger from the balcony at the very end of the first half, presumably irked by their similarity to the murmurings of the legendary Glenn Gould. In all other respects, Goode’s playing was virtually the opposite of Gould’s.

There was even greater range in the Partita No. 2, with a stern imperiousness at the opening of the Sinfonia, yet relaxing into playing that I can only describe as luminescent. The Courante had an insistence and fire. Elsewhere, one noted the undulating phrases that were coaxed onward so tellingly, but without any sense of hurry, with notable wit in the Rondeau, capped off by a compellingly projected Capriccio, full of animation. This was the most rewarding playing of the night. The famous Italian Concerto that closed the concert was moved forward at a relatively deliberate pace, yet its immense care over accents and flow yielded strong structural insights in the first two movements. If these movements were more weighty than sparkling, the final Presto was pure delight.

This was a truly fine experience: all the thoughtful, far-sightedness one expects from Richard Goode in anything he plays was amply present, producing many moments of individual illumination. For all his personal idiosyncrasies of tempo, phrase and pedaling, I thought he affirmed the spirit of Bach without exception. The encore was a most sensitive, inward account of the Sarabande from the first French Suite.

Geoffrey Newman 

Previously published in a slightly different form on

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