Goode brings deep artistry to Mozart Festival’s “Night Music”

Fri Aug 01, 2014 at 11:18 am
Richard Goode performed music of Bach and Schubert at the Mostly Mozart Festival Thursday night. Photo: Sasha Gusov

Richard Goode performed music of Bach and Schubert at the Mostly Mozart Festival Thursday night. Photo: Sasha Gusov

The Mostly Mozart Festival’s “A Little Night Music” concerts are held in the tenth-floor Stanley Kaplan Penthouse of the Lincoln Center complex, which provides an excellent atmosphere. The audience, in groups of four or five, is clustered around small tables, with only soft candles to complement the city lights coming through the floor-to-ceiling windows. Everyone is served a complimentary glass of wine as they enter.

Richard Goode’s one-hour set, which started at 10 p.m. Thursday night, made no concession to the relaxed ambience of the setting. He opened with the rigors of Bach, playing two sets of Preludes and Fugues from Book II of the Well-Tempered Clavier, and then built a path through Schubert’s great Sonata in B-flat major, D. 960. In the Schubert, each note and phrase was like a polished stone, and each stone set the way through the thickets of Bach’s structures and Schubert’s poetry.

Goode’s qualities as a musician are a seemingly bottomless well of ideas and the combination of imagination and curiosity that leads to the spontaneous discovery of new ones. All came together to mark differences, join connections, and bring out surprises in and between Bach and Schubert, and also within the selections from Book II, the Prelude and Fugues No. 1 in C minor, BWV 870, and No. 16 in G minor, BWV 885.

The inherent profundities of the music are both technical and personal, the intellectual force of the brilliant fugal structures powerful, and the fundamental variation form demands substantive thoughts from composer and interpreter. Variations on a line, taking an idea apart and reworking it in interesting ways, outline the possibilities for this expression and leave the artist and listeners to apply their own experiences to the music.

Under Goode’s hands, the preludes were highly romantic: he played with just enough legato, and carried the ends of phrases with just enough rallentando, to add a sense of drama and narrative beyond the technical scene-settings that Bach composed.

In the fugues, his playing was more objective, the articulations and rhythms etched across time, and he played them with the egoless expressive voice that is common to the greatest Bach interpreters. He is equally accomplished at expressing pleasure in the sheer sound of the music—his articulation is clear and has a weight that makes everything rich and ringing—or shaping phrases and harmonies into a certain destination beyond the musical horizon. Hearing the preludes and fugues played with the sensation of the musician’s substantive thoughtfulness leaves one full of burgeoning feelings that go beyond what written and spoken language can carry.

Variations are also a way to change the context, the scenery, to give the same ideas an entirely different meaning because, being in a different place, they have different effects. The mesmerizing opening movement of the B-flat major sonata is just that, the modest, charming, almost placid theme varied through direct musical procedures and indirect action. In the larger scope of the concert, the opening of the sonata confirmed the fanfare quality of the fugue in BWV 885: the A that ends the fugal subject became a leading tone of the sonata’s B-flat chord that seems to drift in from another room, in media res.

The sonata is romantic music, with a strong narrative feeling and the type of introverted personal drama that anticipates the music of Mahler. Goode played the notes exceptionally well, consistently at the upper edge of the tempo markings, and also with real distinction, eschewing the beguiling poetry. The sonata has a stately manner, and it wanders into extremes of introversion and reverie, variations spinning off variations of themes, the music coming to quick halts after extended periods, snapping out of its daydream and getting back to doing what it set out to do.

Goode found surprising humor in the piece, especially in the secondary theme of the first movements sonata-allegro structure. He played the Andante sostenuto movement with more dignity than pathos, and was playful in the Scherzo. His playing of the sturm und drang of the finale was explosive.

Concentrating the disparate threads of the sonata takes clear-thinking and great musical technique. Goode frequently played with a flowing legato in the left hand while the right played the notes with a downward pointing stateliness; at times he used a slightly different sense of rubato in each hand simultaneously.

This independence became a structural element, the music having a conversation with itself over its own meaning. By leaping headlong into the constant flow of formal idiosyncrasies, Goode revealed Schubert’s own unerring, lapidary path.

“A Little Night Music” continues with pianist Steve Osborne 10 p.m. Friday.

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