Review: Richard Goode, Zen and the art of a perfect piano recital

American pianist Richard Goode imbues every piece of music he touches with such a beguiling simplicity that his solo appearances could be called Zen and the Art of the Piano Recital.

His most recent bout of working pianistic magic came at a recital for Music Toronto on Tuesday night at the Jane Mallett Theatre.

As he celebrates the 50th year since his concert début in his native New York City, his resolutely Romantic programme covered works by Robert Schumann (1810-1856), Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) and Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849).

The 68-year-old delivered the music with impeccable technique, unaffected musicality and a deep sense of purpose, making for a powerful concert experience.

Goode has a magical, silken, pearly touch that gleams with an inner beauty.

In the only downside, Goode chose to perform with only a small, pale spotlight on his piano bench and the house lights partially lit. Wearing what might have been a black suit, all but the pianist’s mane of white hair, hands and the grand piano’s glowing metal innards disappeared into charcoal obscurity.

His intention, of course, was to cast all the focus on the music itself.

The first half of the programme was an interesting journey through pieces that are not virtuosic but intimate.

It began with Robert Schumann’s Kinderszenen, a set of 13 short pieces that are an adult’s sweet and gauzy memories of childhood. Goode laid each miniature out neatly and tidily, with subtle shades and colours to make each musical phrase interesting enough to want to hear again.

Then came the seven Op. 116 pieces written by Brahms in his later years. They are technically challenging, abstract works that are so difficult to perform in a coherent manner that most pianists choose to leave them on the shelf.

Goode decided to find a melodic through line in each piece to help carry its ideas, downplaying the elaborate harmonic and contrapuntal structures that Brahms sets up along the way. It made for slightly unorthodox but consistent interpretations that, thanks to the strength of Goode’s vision, made perfect sense.

The concert’s second half was a Chopin sampler, drawing together a Nocturne, a Scherzo, three Waltzes and the crowning Op. 47 Ballade in A-flat major in a rich interwaving of moods that ranged from quietly playful to big and virtuosic.

Remarkable throughout were Goode’s silken touch and delicate balance between modern restraint and Romantic effusion.

One could say that Goode’s whole purpose was to distance himself from the process in order to let the composer’s ideas speak. But that belies the huge task of turning a printed score into something coherent an audience would enjoy hearing.

Behind the charcoal darkness and the surface simplicity of Goode’s playing are more than five decades of intense study, experience, reflection and, one can only guess, an ongoing process of trial and error.

The deepest artistry is sometimes the most discreet.

John Terauds


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