With Goode, the piano music of Beethoven is well served

January 30, 1993|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

No American pianist is more closely associated with the music of Beethoven than Richard Goode. So it was no surprise that he devoted the first half of his recital last night at Smith Theater in Columbia's Candlelight Series to that composer, shedding much light on Beethoven's sonatas in D Major (opus 10, No. 3) and E Major (opus 109), and the opus 119 bagatelles.

The interpretive problem of the D Major Sonata is that the composer wrote an explosively dramatic first movement and a slow tragic one, following them with a courtly sounding minuet and finale. Most pianists play the first two movements in such a way that the last two sound trivial.

But Goode resisted the temptation to indulge in the drama of the opening allegro, presenting its explosions on a somewhat smaller scale than is the custom. He played the slow movement marginally faster than usual, breaking the flowing legato line with with expressive ejaculations in such a way that he prevented it from sounding like Schumann or Chopin. This was a performance that may have sacrificed qualities in the music that one may like to hear, but it made the sonata sound unusually coherent.

Goode was just as successful in the set of 11 tiny bagatelles, catching all their crazy touches of humor and glints of color. He is a pianist with a sense of whimsy that must closely approximate that of the composer, and he has the light touch necessary for putting it across.

Beethoven's opus 109 sonata was beautiful. This is a retrospective work -- in the sense that the music's center of gravity is its final movement -- and Goode played that movement, a set of variations filled with counterpoint, gloriously. He opened with a hymn-like statement of the theme, letting the subsequent variations emerge with simplicity, logic and a perpetually singing tone. There are grander ways to play Beethoven, but few that are as persuasive. It's a very good thing that this pianist is about to finish his recorded set of the sonatas for the Nonesuch label.

His performance of Schubert's Sonata in D Major, which concluded the recital, made one wish that he would turn his attention in the studio to Schubert. The D Major is one of those great pieces that all too easily sounds boorish: a toccata-like first movement that can batter the listener senseless with its unceasing runs and a final movement that, with its naive yodeling melody, can begin to resemble Chinese water torture.

But Goode's masterly way of varying the music's pulse made the first movement sound properly heroic, and his sense of identification with Schubertian melody made one want the final movement to go on forever. The sublime second movement was charming and affecting, and the third movement surged with the energy Goode brings to almost everything he touches.

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