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Goode Plays Bach and Chopin

The outcome of Richard Goode’s Sunday afternoon recital presented by Washington Performing Arts Society on their Piano Masters Series was mixed. Goode’s intricate program comprised fifteen movements of Bach and thirteen works of Chopin, performed for an audience disappointingly filling just roughly half of the Music Center at Strathmore. (Doubly strange given Goode's beloved role as teacher, as in a masterclass at the Washington Conservatory on the Saturday before, which was by report amazing.) With a menu resembling something similar to a meal of delectable finger food, both the audience and Goode perhaps needed something more substantial programmatically into which to sink their teeth, or musical material to incline them to longer thoughts. These general feelings could have been substantially diminished had Goode been less on autopilot through the works of Bach that opened both halves of the program, and had there been more cooperation from his instrument.

The opening Prelude and Fugue in G minor (Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 2) and those in C major, E major, and A minor opening the second half of the program (also from Book 2) featured an abundance of energetic fluidity. However, this fluidity did not necessarily serve Bach's music well, because of Goode’s over-pedaling, lack of figural articulation, and persistent banging out of top lines, together with muddy inner voices. To make matters worse, the weak audience attendance further wettened Strathmore’s acoustic. Goode sacrificed the possibilities of clear articulation by connecting the end of almost all notes with the next, thus relegating interest to the attacks of notes only. In the quicker movements the Steinway outright rejected him, sort of like a well-trained horse being pushed without respect or a high-performance car being abused -- in the end it is the responsibility of the rider, driver, or performer to create optimal rapport.

Other Reviews:

Robert Battey, Richard Goode's Chopin: Understated, Understanding (Washington Post, March 31)

Peter Dobrin, Richard Goode at the Kimmel (Philadelphia Inquirer, March 28)

Sharon McDaniel, Piano dances, eloquent and thought provoking, courtesy of Richard Goode (South Florida Classical Review, March 26)

Previous Ionarts Reviews:
FAES | Strathmore | San Francisco Symphony
The French Suite No. 5 in G major stood out as the most nuanced of the Bach selections, due to Goode’s sensitive approach to ornamentation. The Allemande had a precious vulnerability, while the Courante became a blur; the Sarabande and Louré had lovely, lyrical ornaments; the Gavotte, recognizable as a popular work that many beginners play, was still very stylish; the Bourrée was quite fun, yet with quick notes getting lost and an unsettled tempo; and the Gigue eventually became strong, after beginning a bit flippantly, and overall lacked transparency of voicing.

The ornateness of the Bach suite balanced well with the five mazurkas of Chopin that followed, where Goode so fluently expressed the complex rhythms of the dances. Melodic lines that would turn in the most unexpected ways were often extended with the most surprising of ornaments. Goode’s minute alterations of tempo further enhanced this sense of magic. The Nocturne in F# major (op. 15, no. 2) was rather hyper-fluent, or put another way, lacked discovery, while the Scherzo No. 3 in C# minor was brilliant, except for the descending octave patterns that came off as rather rude and sometimes contained more notes than in the score; the fiendishly difficult coda was flawless.

In the final Chopin pieces on the program -- the D-flat major nocturne, waltzes in C# minor and A-flat minor, Valse brillante in F major, and Polonaise-fantasie in A-flat minor -- Goode at times created the gentlest tone by barely brushing the keys, at others was as playful as a kitten, and most importantly found an ideal balance between his instrument and the hall where the artist, in his own ideal world, was able to fully share with the audience his universe.

The next two pianists featured by WPAS provide a comparison of the relatively new -- the young Israeli Yaron Kohlberg (April 4, 2 pm) at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater -- and the masterful Krystian Zimerman (April 8, 8 pm) at Strathmore.

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