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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Piano Sonata in A minor, K.310 (1778) [17’28]
March in C major, K.408 (1782) [2’58]
Courante in E flat major, K.399 (1782) [2’13]
Gigue in G major, K.574 (1789) [1’32]
Rondo in A minor, K.511 (1787) [10’14]
Piano Sonata in F major, K.533/494 (1788) [23’54]
Richard Goode (piano)
rec. American Academy of Arts and Letters, New York, June 19-21 2003; March 9 2004
NONESUCH 7559-79831-2 [58’14]

 

Those who know Richard Goode’s recorded work through his Mozart concerto series with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, or for that matter his Beethoven sonatas or Bach partitas, will know that there is no more stylish or tasteful a pianist working today. His playing never draws attention to itself through sensationalism, distortion or inappropriate rubato and what it may lack in visceral excitement is more than made up for by long term staying power and sheer unaffected musicality. Here is another example.

This may not be the most generous Mozart piano disc around (another sonata would have easily fitted) but no buyer is likely to be disappointed, such is the intelligence and beautifully proportioned pianism on offer. It’s also nicely planned, the two sonatas framing a well-picked miscellaneous collection which contains some interesting stuff.

The dynamic A minor Sonata is a favourite recital opener for many players; I’ve encountered it at least three times in the last twelve months on radio, and it’s easy to see why. The work comes from a period tinged with frustration and personal grief for Mozart, and is filled with bold, defiant gestures and big sonorities that belie its short length. As ever with Goode, structural clarity is paramount, and he makes more of the harmonic frictions in the first movement than one usually encounters, without underplaying the obvious surface tensions. Even the songful slow movement is laced with some striking dissonances that Goode makes the most of. The fiery presto finale, despite some A major calm midway, ends the work in the tense manner of the opening.

The F major Sonata makes an excellent contrast. It is invested with some richly varied and brilliantly contrapuntal writing, clearly reflecting Mozart’s ongoing explorations into the music of Bach and Handel. Once again, Goode is not just content with surface brilliance, though there is plenty of that, but is determined to delve deeper into Mozart’s subtle textures and voicings. It’s a truly marvellous performance, capped by a finale that shows a master composer being interpreted by a master keyboard craftsman.

The shorter items are all of interest. Indeed, listening to them through as a whole gives the impression of almost encountering a Bachian Partita or Suite. We have a brilliant March to open, two short dances as ‘filling’ and a big Rondo finale. In fact, this Rondo is quite often performed in concert as it is almost a sonata in itself, with dance, drama and song sitting alongside each other, all the elements worked out with exceptional skill and brilliantly brought off here by Goode.

It goes without saying that there are many fine Mozart discs in the catalogue, including an increasing number of complete Sonata cycles. But if you are a Richard Goode fan, or just fancy wallowing in a well programmed, superbly recorded concert hall-style recital, you really will enjoy this. I might add that the ever-reliable Michael Steinberg contributes one of the fullest, most intelligent and entertaining liner notes I’ve come across for some time.

Tony Haywood



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