Richard Goode, piano

Thursday, April 19, 2012 | 8:00 pm

Page Auditorium


An authoritative musician with a superhuman capacity for insight, Richard Goode may be the definitive American pianist of the last half-century. The Grammy and Avery Fisher Prize winner set a new standard of excellence for the complete Beethoven sonatas with his acclaimed recording for Nonesuch, and currently serves as the Co-Artistic Director of the prestigious Marlboro Music School. For Duke Performances, Goode brings his “fastidious musicianship, infallible fingers, and warming spirit” (NY Times) to bear on a program including Schumann’s Kreisleriana — a wonderfully dramatic work dedicated to Chopin — and a series of short pieces by Chopin. In Page Auditorium, a consummate artist who favors discernment over idiosyncrasy surveys two great romantics just after their bicentenaries.

Notes, from Richard Goode, on the second half of the program:
Chopin is a unique figure in musical history. Virtually self-taught as pianist and composer, he made a wholly personal synthesis of disparate traditions: Polish folk music, the French Salon, the classical disciplines of his revered Bach and Mozart, and Bellinian bel canto. (Ravel reportedly spoke of Chopin as “the greatest of the Italians!”) He achieved greatness despite writing chiefly for one instrument and mostly in small forms. This most personal of composers wrote pieces with self-effacing, generic titles; the poetic spirit coexisted with an impenetrable reserve.

There is nothing especially nocturnal about the Nocturnes. They are among the purest examples of Chopin’s art of translating the voice into the language of the piano. Much of its magic is in the characteristic sound: the bass and widely spaced inner voices provide the harmonic web on which the treble voice can float. The sustaining pedal makes this possible; it is the key to Chopin’s sonority, and he is the only composer who writes all pedal markings into his scores. The melodic writing of the E-flat Nocturne often imitates an intertwining vocal duet, and harmonies have the richness and chromaticism of late Chopin.

The demonic side of Chopin can be heard in the C-sharp Minor Scherzo, dedicated to the pianist Adolphe Gutmann — notable according to contemporaries for his powerful assaults on the keyboard (Chopin was more of a piano-whisperer.) The motoric middle section is succeeded by a solemn, Lutheran-sounding chorale, whose effect is transformed by the delicate waterfall of arpeggios between phrases.

For me, Chopin’s lighter music can be as moving as his more ambitious works. In the waltzes, the relative simplicity of the form was a challenge to the composer, who responded with wonderful melodic and harmonic subtleties. In the middle of the suavest and most debonair of A-flat Waltzes, Chopin quietly introduces a jaunty dotted figure in C Major — a fragment of a mazurka or polonaise? — which quickly dissolves in the flow. The celebrated C-sharp Minor Waltz alternates a seductive opening strain and an agitated perpetual motion, with a radiant major episode at the center. The F Major Waltz chases its tail brilliantly — one frivolous episode must have charmed Rossini and Chabrier.

Of the four Ballades, three are dramatic or tragic in tone, and end in Chopin’s closest approaches to violent chaos. All are in 6/8 or 6/4 meter, and seem to embody a hidden poetic narrative — though if this were true, Chopin would be the last composer to reveal it. The Third Ballade is the exception, a noble and sunlit work in A-flat (which even for Beethoven was a gentle and mellifluous key.) The mood is set by the flower-like opening of the first melody. A wayward, oscillating motive turns storm, then gives way to a waltz episode. There is a wonderful moment when the opening tune rises from the depths unexpectedly, sotto voce, before the exultant coda.

Program

SCHUMANN: Kinderszenen, Op. 15, “Scenes from Childhood”
SCHUMANN: Kreisleriana, Op. 16, “Phantasien für das Pianoforte”
CHOPIN: Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 55, No. 2
CHOPIN: Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39
CHOPIN: Waltz in A-flat, Op. 64, No. 3
CHOPIN: Waltz in F Major, Op. 34, No. 3
CHOPIN: Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major, Op. 47 

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