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Richard Goode


Richard Goode, piano At the Jane Mallett Theatre in Toronto on Tuesday

Richard Goode was at the top of his legendary game on Tuesday, when he played for a packed house at Music Toronto.

On paper, his program might have appeared staid – warhorses by Schumann, Brahms and Chopin, written within about half a century of each other. But Goode's performance showed how much diversity of voice can lie within narrow confines of time and geography.

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The first half of the concert took us from innocence – Schumann's Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15 – to experience – Brahms's Seven Fantasias, Op. 116 (1892). After intermission, we suddenly found ourselves at an Italian opera, in Chopin's Nocturne in E-flat, Op. 55 No. 2; the growling opening of same composer's Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp Minor, Op. 39, in contrast, seemed to foretell the grotesque gnomes of Mussorgsky's Pictures at an Exhibition, after which we were swept off our feet in three Chopin waltzes.

With tenor Ian Bostridge's unforgettable performance of Schumann two days earlier still in one's ears, the Kinderszenen seemed like a song cycle without words. Goode's performance introduced the qualities that would hold us rapt for the rest of the evening: an effortlessly singing tone and transparent textures; rhythm that was flexible but unfussy, a beautiful balance between romantic reflectiveness and improvisatory freshness.

After the gentle intimacy of the Schumann, Goode's plunge into Brahm's passionate, orchestrally conceived Capriccio in D Minor, Op. 116 No. 1 had the same bracing effect as a leap into a frigid lake after a Finnish sauna.

Goode found tenderness in the rhapsodic capriccios, and improvisatory freedom in the tender intermezzi. In both, he embraced strangeness – places where an unexpected modulation derails the narrative; metrical ambiguity, and the like. At the same time, his storytelling approach, and the absence of bombast, made these, too, songs without words. (And after Bostridge's Schumann-Brahms juxtaposition, I'm tempted to say: songs unencumbered by the second-rate poetry that Brahms often set.)

The poignant Intermezzo in E-Major was a highlight of the Brahms set: Here the initial melody keeps wandering off the rails harmonically; when it moves into a truly distant area in the middle section, you felt that we had reached the place we had been looking for all along.

Goode's Chopin was transcendent. His technique went beyond virtuosity, especially in the formidable Scherzo in C-Sharp Minor, Op. 39. He was like a Prospero, joyously and effortlessly commanding the forces of nature, from the dark, tightly coiled springs of the opening to the right hand's fluttering bursts of joy in the chorale section.

That profound connection to rhythm as a life force lay at the heart of the recital, and united the various composers' voices. I realized afterwards that it had been present, in a gentle way, in the very opening, where Goode gave unusual prominence to the circular movement of the first of Schumann's Kinderszenen (Of Strange Lands and People).

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At the time it seemed an interesting touch. But by the end of the evening, this swirling motion had emerged as a profound life force, sweeping us off our feet in Chopin waltzes; often propelled by amorous dialogues between tenor and soprano voices of the piano.

Having set this rhythmic universe in motion, Goode let the pleasures of the Chopin pour out: the harmonic slippages that tripped you up with Chaplinesque humour in the Waltz in A-flat Op. 64 No. 3; the stream-of-consciousness fragments in the Waltz in C-sharp minor, Op. 64 No. 2; the increasingly urgent tugging against the rocking motion of the opening of the Ballade No. 3 in A-flat Major.

Here's hoping for a return engagement soon.

Special to The Globe and Mail

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