A Selective Guide to the Arts in Los Angeles

It’s been quite a week in Los Angeles for aficionados of the classical piano repertoire. Last Wednesday, Hungarian pianist András Schiff performed Book 1 of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier at Disney Hall in downtown LA, and this Wednesday he performs Book 2 (look for a review of both Schiff recitals next week on Culture Spot). Sandwiched in between was American pianist Richard Goode, who performed a recital of classical works last night at the Broad Stage in Santa Monica.

The two events couldn’t have been more different. Schiff, decked out in a fancy suit, performed in Disney Hall, which can seat more than 2,000 people; while Goode, dressed in a somewhat loose-fitting and slightly crumpled-looking suit, performed on the more intimate Broad Stage that accommodates 499 audience members. Schiff played from memory the 24 Preludes and Fugues from Book I of Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier; while Goode used scores to play works by Haydn (Sonatas in B Minor, Hob. XVI:32 and C Major, Hob. XVI:50), Mozart (Sonata in G Major, K. 283 and the Rondo in A Minor, K. 511), and Beethoven (Sonatas in E Flat Major, Op.7 and A Major, Op. 101).

What both performers had in common, though, were exceptional keyboard technique and a real sense of the composers’ intentions.

Goode’s performance was somewhat idiosyncratic. First, as mentioned, he used scores for all the works he performed. Perhaps this is explained by the fact that he is not performing each work regularly (as Schiff is with his Bach cycle). When asked in a pre-recital talk how he chose these particular works, Goode replied that they all had to be pieces that he loved, had to represent early and late styles of the three composers, and had to be “temperamentally contrasting.”

The other unconventional aspect of Goode’s performance was that, as he played, he sang along with the pieces, just as Glenn Gould used to do. In the beginning, this was slightly distracting, but more and more it enhanced the enjoyment of the evening because it was as if Goode were letting the audience into his living room as he played and sang through some of his favorite works.

It was obvious that Goode loved these pieces. He played them all with verve and passion — his left foot could be heard slapping the floor primarily during the sudden fortissimos in the Beethoven sonatas, and whichever hand wasn’t caressing the keys frequently caressed the air. There were wonderful contrasts not only between the two halves of the program that featured early and later works, but also in the second half with the  humor in the third movement of the C Major Haydn (whose obvious wrong notes and false starts caused some in the audience to chuckle) juxtaposed with the very expressive Mozart Rondo, and then the personal, intimate, and Romantic-leaning Op. 101 by Beethoven.

For an encore, Goode chose to go back even further in time to the Sarabande in E Flat Major from the French Suite No. 4 by Bach (which provided yet another interesting contrast to the Schiff recital). Perhaps it was because he played this piece from memory, or because the audience wasn’t distracted by the turning of pages, but it seemed more fluid. Or it could have been because the piece itself provided a soothing conclusion to a wonderfully intimate and moving performance by a renowned American pianist.