Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

Tale of Hoffmann

January 20, 2010

Richard Goode in Los Angeles
Photo: mine 2010

On Tuesday the Los Angeles Philharmonic hosted an excellent solo recital from pianist Richard Goode. It was raining, so of course the crowd was thinner than usual, but those of us who showed up were in for a performance that made all of the transport hassles worth it. Goode may not share many of his high-profile contemporaries’ reputations for being fussy, tempestuous or darkly brooding. But, like Emanuel Ax, what he lacks in dramatic stage persona, he more than makes up for with remarkable playing. Tuesday’s program seemed unassuming on the surface with some small Bach excerpts, three Haydn Sonatas and a large romantic piece from Schumann. But the show was exciting at every turn in execution.

Goode set the tone with two brief passages from The Well-Tempered Clavier. This is lush, highly-felt but not overly fussy or fastidious playing. This was only a warm up for the surprising main attraction in the first half of the evening, three sonata from Haydn. Haydn’s solo piano music is not perhaps among his best known works and they were composed, at least in part, to be played by a wide audience with a commercial appeal in mind. But under these conditions, Goode presented them with such warmth and exuberance that they became monumental. This was a first-rate reminder that knuckle-busting pyrotechnics aren’t all that make a superior pianist. After the break was a single work from Schumann, Kreisleriana. A sizeable Romantic excursion, the work is based on Kreisler, a violinist and a character from one of the tales of E.T.A. Hoffmann. The music vacillates back and forth between rapid flourishes and quiet, still reflections. Goode flew at these passages with gusto and some foot stomping excitement that added to the piece. It was undoubtedly florid, but very effective and again allowed Goode to mine a piece of arguably meager prospects for maximum effect. There were encores of works by Chopin and more Bach, which were met with an enthusiastic ovation for the rather unassuming artist.


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