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Friday, May 2, 2014

Concert Review: Poetry at the Piano

Richard Goode returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Pierre,  the Sherry Netherland and pianist Richard Goode in Central Park.
Photo by Michael Wilson © 2014 Intermusica.
Richard Goode stands outside the mainstream of contemporary concert pianists. His intellectual, sometimes cool approach to repertory, penchant for sight-reading in recital preference for the slightly shorter six-foot Steinway "music hall" piano over the standard eight-foot Model D make any concert of his a unique experience. Happily, as proved on Thursday night at Carnegie Hall, that experience continues to be rewarding.

For this recital, Mr. Goode chose a program steeped in the tradition of using the piano as an instrument of poetic expression. The first, short course consiisted of four short piano leaves by Leoš Janáček, drawn from that composer's colection On an Overgrown Path. These works, written in the pre-dawn of Janáček's mature composing career (before the success of the opera Jenůfa made him a household name) are infrequently heard in recital.

Mr. Goode found the beauty in each of these short pieces, expressing their creator's raw, sometimes turbulent emotions through a disguise of folk-inflected lyricism. "Our Evenings" and "A Blown-Away Leaf" allowed the artist to employ chord voicings and odd phrases that are uniquely, recognizably Janacek. "Come With Us!" and "Good Night!" are demanding, necessitating the balance of natural musical phrasing with technical dexterity.

Schumann's Davidsbündlertänze ("Dances of the League of David") represent a summation of the composer's early career, playing out the conflict between the composer's two "public" pseudonyms "Florestan" and Eusebius." With one representing the adrenaline rush of pure all-out virtuosity ("Florestan") and the other "Eusebius" being the soul of poetic expression, the pianist painted an always-compelling window into Schumann's innermost creative conflict.

From the opening movement where the two voices trade off to the fast-figured dances ("Florestan"), themselves answered with sweeter, more melodic passages (representing the more thoughtful, inner-directed "Eusebius") Mr. Goode played with singing, soulful tone.  And yet there was a lyric vitality throught this performance that pulled the listener along to the final Nicht schnell an achievement of peace between the two aspects of the composer's personality expressed in a serene, moving series of bass chords.

If Schumann's cycle of dance music broke the rulebook for pianistic writing, Debussy shredded its pages and rained them out the window after school. The First Book of Preludes eschews tonal organization for a set of twelve vastly different works that create compelling aural pictures from sound. Mr. Goode's technique, deceptively gentle cascades of notes giving way to fearsome from-the-shoulders force in key passages, brought out the detail and clarity in these pieces in vivid bursts of color and sound.

The subject matter of the Preludes ranges from bleak portraits of nature ("The Wind in the Plain," "Footprints in the Snow") to musical tourism ("Les collines d'Anacapri") and most famously "Les sons et les parfums tournent dans l'air du soir", a flight of perfumed fancy inspired by the writings of Charles Baudelaire. Most memorable here was "La cathédrale engloutie" Mr. Goode's interpretation of the drowned cathedral of the mythic city of Ys, with its lurking bass chords evoking the eerie sound of sub-aquatic funereal bells. The cycle ended with "Minstrels", a light-hearted portrait whose jazzy complexity shows up later in George Gershwin's An American in Paris.

As the audience rose in appreciation, Mr. Goode returned for two encores, both drawn from composers previously featured on the program. Debussy's "Ondine" (not to be confused with the longer and more difficult Ravel piece with the same title) filled the air with watery textures and lyric playing. Schumann's Arabeske was the perfect aperitif, alternating passionate longing with forceful outbursts, another round of the endless argument between Florestan and Eusebius.
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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.