On Sunday night I went to Carnegie Hall to hear Richard Goode, one of the finest pianists alive today, give a recital. He is a thoughtful, meditative, introspective player, deeply concerned with the ideas underlying a composition, but exploring them without even a whiff of intellectualism or stiffness. Hearing him play, you feel in the presence of someone immeasurably wiser, and more patient, than yourself, someone who is exploring the deepest, most secret and subtle elements of music.
The recital began with Bach's Partita No. 6, and Goode's Bach, always loose and baggy and a little disheveled, was somewhat too much so this evening, practically coming apart at the seams. I admire the way he accentuates the searching, improvisatory quality of the Partitas, and the approach works perfectly on his recordings of them, but here Bach's intertwining lines lost too much of their clarity, their irrevocability, their power. Coming afterwards, Schoenberg's Six Little Piano Pieces were like a shock of ice water, played with precision, clarity and a remarkable fleetness of touch.
That ice water was the perfect palate cleanser before Beethoven's third to last Sonata, Opus 109. This was a masterful performance, Goode at his very best. It is perfect music for him: He is all about plumbing the depths, and there are few compositions that contain chasms as deep as Beethoven's late sonatas. I have never heard the beautiful melody that bookends the final movement so perfectly realized. Simple, understated, noble and profoundly moving.
After intermission came Book 1 of Debussy's Preludes, which frankly I did not expect to be all that successful in Goode's hands. Debussy is not a composer who particularly rewards deep thought or introspection, and I wasn't sure that Goode could muster the interest in pure sound, or be bothered to pull out the pianistic showmanship, to make the Preludes exciting. How wrong I was. I'd never thought of Goode as a master colorist -- his tone is generally the least interesting part of his playing -- but here he was a regular sonic conjurer. Debussy's Cathédral Engloutie (Sunken Cathedral) has rarely sounded so completely submerged, so genuinely subaqueous. A magical performance.
Goode has a new recording of Mozart coming out in April (information on it can be found here. I haven't heard it yet, but will report back when I do.