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Reporter’s Notebook:

Pianist prefers nuance to flash

May 01, 2009|By Alan Blank

In his program of works by Bach, Chopin and Schubert, pianist Richard Goode was at his best while playing Bach’s fifth French Suite.

The piece is composed of mostly light Baroque dance music, which suited Goode’s light touch and clean, crisp playing well. His fingers danced on the keys during the faster passages, and the ornamental trills were sharp and measured.

Much of Bach’s music starts with a theme, which is repeated in the different voices (bass, middle range, treble) and accompanied by filigree runs in surrounding voices. Following the theme as it travels from voice to voice, especially in his fugues, is one of the more gratifying experiences in all of classical music and Goode’s ability to lead the listener through one of Bach’s more difficult fugues was impressive.

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From the beginning he imbued the theme of the G minor Fugue from the second book of The Well-Tempered Clavier with a stern character and he managed to keep the theme and the character upfront and center even while it was competing with three other simultaneous melodic lines.

The works by Bach joined a series of short works by Chopin to make up the first half of the program — a choice deliberately made by Goode to highlight the influence that Bach had on Chopin in writing multiple voices.

Chopin was a slim, sickly man for most of his short life and was physically incapable of making big, bombastic sounds on the piano, yet many of his works — at least in their present day interpretations — feature crashing chords and furious runs. For instance, the main motif of Chopin’s dark Scherzo in C-sharp minor consists of parallel octaves in both hands loudly and ominously whirling down the keyboard.

Listening to, say, Sviatoslav Richter’s interpretation of the piece the octaves are heavy and full of rage. Goode played them much faster, but did not create the overwhelming sonic power that Richter does.

Goode’s interpretation may have been closer to Chopin’s, given the composer’s physical limitations. There’s still something satisfying about the octaves attacking the listener’s ears, though.

The nuances of Goode’s playing worked well to create a smooth sheen over Chopin’s Nocturne in F-sharp minor Op. 15, No. 2.

The same subtlety was present in his performance of a collection of Chopin Mazurkas.

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