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More Please!

New York
Avery Fisher Hall
04/27/2004 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Six Bagatelles
Franz Schubert: Sonata D845
Leos Janacek: Sonata
Frederic Chopin: Four Mazurkas, Nocturne Op. 55, No. 2, Ballade No. 1

Richard Goode (piano)

In recent years a rather obscure piece by Leos Janacek has taken on a life of its own in the recital hall. Subtitled alternatively “In the Street” or “October 1, 1905”, this piano sonata came as a violent reaction to the killing of a worker or student (this has always been somewhat unclear, probably even to Janacek) during a demonstration of Moravian loyalties in an occupied city. Now, during the 150th birth year, this outcry has legs, joining its 1905 cousin by Dmitri Shostakovich as a universal protest. Listen to tonight’s program notes:

“…this sonata, deeply imbued with pathos and personal suffering,
is undeniably one of Janacek’s most deeply-felt utterances…”

absolutely correct, but a bit less so this evening.

Richard Goode (rhymes with “mood”) is a pianist of impeccable reputation and the most solid of credentials. The problem may be, however, that he tends to play that way. Although his technical prowess is indeed impressive, he somehow doesn’t come across as poetic or even empathetic, projecting instead an image of the aloof authority. For all of his enviable physical strength, his playing produces a rather small sound and he does little to expand upon it interpretively. When presenting the late Beethoven short pieces, this manner of straightforwardness is fine; it seems that old deaf Ludwig had so many melodies left in him at the end that he needed to simply write down a few as miniatures. Performing them in such a distinguished and correct manner was perfectly compatible with this particular aesthetic unconcerned with matters of development.

Goode did shape a thoughtful andante in his Schubert, but again stayed far from the center of the emotions of this timeless, in both senses of the word, masterpiece. Is it legitimate to say that with so much effort and training the end product was simply ordinary? If so, then Richard Goode is the prime exponent of this type of superhuman pedestrianism. Blood, sweat and toil, but precious few tears.

Now all of this was pleasant enough and forgivable as well, but when the subject is Chopin, then one must vigorously protest. Goode’s mazurkas were positively foursquare (Bronfman has the same odd proclivity), missing the entire off kilter point of the form. The final big G Minor Ballade (what piece in the entire repertoire is more emotional?) was dexterous and secure, but ultimately just a shell. One can only admire fingering for so long (and reserve, for that matter) before questioning the point of it all. Authoritative, accurate, commanding and dull, this reviewer can rate this recital no better than faire.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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