Piano dances, eloquent and thought provoking, courtesy of Richard Goode

By Sharon McDaniel

Richard Goode sits quietly, peacefully at the piano. He moves comparatively little as he plays: no histrionics at the keyboard, no flashy leaps from the bench. But he always makes his point. He leaves listeners with a renewed appreciation and understanding of the music — and of what it means to be not just an exceptional pianist, but also a formidable musician.

  Goode replaced Murray Perahia on the Kravis Center’s Regional Arts series Tuesday night in West Palm Beach. And the ever-thought-provoking artist had us rethinking two seemingly disparate composers, Bach and Chopin. Yet Goode linked them more thoroughly than could mere facts in a history book. His clear, eloquent voice-leading in the Chopin, so reminiscent of Bach’s counterpoint, underscored a significant connection. It also brought to mind that Bach was Chopin’s favorite composer. Goode’s program, in essence a collection of dances — the Allemande, Gavotte and Gigue of Bach’s Suite No. 3 in G; the mazurkas, waltzes and a polonaise of Chopin — connected even more dots.

  At his best, the 65-year-old American artist closed with an impassioned performance of Chopin’s Polonaise-fantasie in A flat, Op. 61. Along the way, he realigned and reshaped the wandering “fantasie” sections that so often sound disjointed. In the middle section, he chose an especially slow, soft, tender approach, rendering the music almost unrecognizable in the traditional sense. Yet his insights exposed a color wheel of changing harmonies and the interplay of swirling melodic fragments. These dramatic ideas would have gone mostly unnoticed in a less thoughtful performance.

  Of four Chopin mazurkas, two are stylistic opposites, but both qualified as knockouts. In the familiar, elegant Mazurka in A Minor, Op. 7, No. 2, Goode reached for its depths with some of his softest, most delicate playing. The folksier A-flat major Mazurka, Op. 7, No. 4, sped along at a clip, chatting smoothly up and down the keyboard.

  Among the 12 Chopin gems, Goode added some heavyweights: a beautifully shaded and nuanced Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor, a clear reminder that fast and pianissimo is a sexy combination. The Barcarolle in F-sharp Major was  well-paced and plumbed for all its dramatic depth. 

  Goode’s opening Bach was uneven. The G Minor Prelude and Fugue, the first of four sets from the Well-Tempered Clavier, Book II, survived by the strong statement of the dazzling fugue. But not until the French Suite’s final two movements — the Loure, a slow French dance imbued with brightness and delicacy; and the joyously light and lightning fast Gigue –did the performance stabilize. One can only wonder if the Kravis house lights, dimmed but not dark, were as distracting to the pianist as to the audience.

  Using his score for Bach’s E Major Prelude and Fugue, Goode adopted a lovely organ-like legato, but the effect sounded more studied, the insights only skimming the surface. For the final fugue, one of the WTC’s noble pillars (the A Minor Prelude and Fugue), he played with utter clarity – and with racing stripes on.

  Following that eloquent Polonaise-fantasie, Goode played a single encore, another Chopin jewel, the Nocturne in E-flat major, Op. 55, No. 2. A brief, late work, full of aching harmonies and rapturous tensions, it sustained the uplift so carefully nurtured throughout this inspiring evening.

Sharon McDaniel, former classical music and dance critic of the Palm Beach Post, also writes for Palm Beach ArtsPaper.com and presents pre-concert talks at the Kravis Center.

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Thu Mar 26, 2009
at 12:02 pm
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