Richard Goode at KCPA

It is not often that one attends a concert where the competing, sometimes complementary, reasons we go to them at all become apparent. Thursday’s woefully under-attended performance by pianist Richard Goode at Foellinger Hall at the Krannert Center was one such event. His performance was an interesting mix of thoughtful and inventive programming, mildly eccentric and yet brilliant interpretation, and satisfying technical skill.
The most compelling feature of his performance was his choice of compositions and the concept behind their selection. The program was not announced before the concert, only being available in the concert program. He chose to play a large number of smaller works, placing five Prelude and Fugue pairs from Johann Sebastian Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier with waltzes, mazurkas and other works by Frédéric Chopin. Their appearance together allowed for a comparison which brought to light many similarities and sympathies one would not normally associate with the music Bach and Chopin—one composing highly intellectual and complex contrapuntal music and the other often dismissed as simply a composer of romantic and virtuosic piano works. Mr. Goode’s effort, however, undid much of this apparent disparity. The light playful, and pianistic aspects of Bach’s Fugues and his fifth French Suite, features more commonly used to discuss Chopin’s music, were immediately apparent. On the other hand, the harmonic and textural depth of Chopin’s works were highlighted by their connection to the Bach works. In this way, Goode’s selections allowed for new understanding of both. This intent, incidentally, was evident in the excellent program notes by Susan Halpern.
Mr. Goode’s performance was often inspired, as he is clearly able to draw a wide range of tones from the instrument, but he was also uneven and prone to distorting the work with excessive expressive manipulations. This is often a problem amongst interpreters of Chopin. His Bach suffered similar problems. However, as attitudes differ greatly about these kind of interpretive issues concerning both Chopin and Bach, I will admit my opinion may be due to my own personal preferences.
However, following a shaky Prelude and Fugue in G minor from the second book of the Well-Tempered Clavier, he settled into a entertaining and engaging set of Chopin’s mazurkas, finishing with an animated Scherzo No. 3 in C-sharp minor. The second half, featuring three Prelude and Fugue parings, several of Chopin’s concert waltzes, and Chopin’s Polonaise-fantasie in A flat major Op. 61, was perfect evidence of the quality of Mr. Goode’s playing.
Ultimately, Mr. Goode’s concert was simply a perfect blend of entertaining music making and educational efforts, both excellent reasons to go to performances of classical music. This is, by the way, exactly the kind of performance the KCPA is trying to bring to our community, so praise should go to the fine administration under Mike Ross, KCPA’s director. Often classical music is burdened by its educational properties and its cultural cache. Sometimes it is nice to be simply be entertained by a fine performance, and yet Mr. Goode was able to succeed in both areas. It is a shame more people were not there to experience it.

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