The Master Pianists series at the Concertgebouw never disappoints. While debuting stars showcase their technical virtuosity, the veterans usually return with seminal pieces of piano literature. Tonight Richard Goode came back to Amsterdam for Beethoven's last three sonatas complemented by six humorous bagatelles, also from the composer’s final period. His performance was exceptional, always respecting Beethoven’s notes, while leaving a cerebral mark of his own. Youthful optimism in the first one contrasted with the following sonata's seasoned nostalgia. By preceding the last sonata with the Op.119 Bagatelles, Goode grounded his audience before taking them on a final, uplifting trip. An utterly enchanted audience was left behind after Goode’s journey into Beethoven’s otherworldly atmosphere.

Richard Goode © Sasha Gusov
Richard Goode
© Sasha Gusov

Goode quickly demonstrated his masterful musicianship, playfully introducing the Vivace ma non troppo, immediately followed by his calming interpretation of the slow theme. The Adagio espressivo sounded particularly brilliant. With ease he accelerated for Beethoven's energetic Prestissimo, electrifying the audience. In the third movement, Goode elicited the light emotions from Beethoven’s theme and six variations. Here, frequently, the consoling, nocturnal universe of Bach’s Goldberg Variations came to mind. Goode’s soft touch led to a calming arioso, a crisp leggiermente, and a pulsating Allegro vivace. A gentleness resonated through the very slowly paced fourth variation. The touching, innocent music contrasted with Goode’s lack of theatrics; even during the espressivo passages, he remained intensely precise. Poised behind her husband as if his muse, Goode’s wife, violinist Marcia Weinfeld, turned the pages, their nearness augmenting the intimacy of the performance. 

Before Beethoven’s penultimate Sonata no. 31 in A flat major, Op.110, Goode briefly left the stage after applause, thereby undermining the connective possibilities between the two sonatas. Whereas the previous sonata encompassed innocent emotions, the Moderato cantabile, molto espressivo first movement of this sonata soaks in nostalgia. Goode transitioned fluidly from the tense, nearly erotic, crescendi back to his caressing pianissimi. For now, the American performed Beethoven’s ahead-of-his-time syncopations soberly; though this would change for the final sonata. As he paced the second movement’s feral temperament, Goode added a nostalgic quality to the Allegro molto. Departing from the cheerful mood, Goode commenced with the melancholic final movement. This journey from darkness to light includes a lamentation. After that sorrowful arioso, Goode moved with phenomenal transparency through Beethoven’s densely layered fugue, especially the second time its clarity stunned. In the end, Goode easily increased tempo for the restrained finale.

After the break, a series of bagatelles offered a brief respite from Beethoven’s drama. Goode included the last six from Beethoven’s 11 Bagatelles, Op.119 as comic relief. Or as the performer suggests: ‘the sorbet’ in the programme of heavy courses. Beethoven composed them around the same time of his final sonata. His experimentation did not only occur in his late sonatas, but also in this humorous form. The American alternated between the fast and slow paces, through the seemingly whimsical twist and turns, playfully conjuring up Beethoven’s witticisms. Not necessarily expected from a bagatelle, Goode even evoked some surprising emotional nuance in the last one. This wit was perfectly programmed ahead of Beethoven’s final sonata.

After the bagatelles, Goode's performance of Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minorOp.111 felt fresh and furious during the Maestoso – Allegro con brio ed appassionato and sublimely beautiful in the finale. The haunting diminished seventh chords that popped up in the preceding sonata finally ominously haunt the first movement. Impassionate without spectacle, Goode worked himself through the majestic, earthbound variations. For the final movement, Goode first offered a dreamlike, contemplative world through his spellbinding pace of the Arietta—Adagio molto, semplice e cantabile. Later, his swinging rhythm in Beethoven’s jazzy, experimental syncopations invigorated the audience before the final ascent into Beethoven's other-worldly sound. As Goode lucidly worked through the grim arpeggios and delicate quavers and tremolos, the music felt thinner and lighter. In the end, the tranquil resolution left the audience with a wonderful peace of mind.