Classical music: Ardour and inspiration

Richard Goode (27 May), Dawn Upshaw and Richard Goode (3 June), Barbican
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Richard Goode is fast becoming America's answer to Alfred Brendel, yet his solo recital at the Barbican last week was surprisingly poorly attended. The way he proclaimed the glories of the Sinfonia opening Bach's second Partita at once asserted his authority; here was a pianist who wasn't letting that vast stage separate him from his listeners, and who made the piano really sing. Goode is well established as one of the most interesting and powerful interpreters of Beethoven. He has the authentic ruggedness, but on this occasion he chose the genial, carefree E-flat Sonata, Op31 No 3, and took Beethoven's presto con fuoco marking in the finale at its word - perhaps a bit too fast and facile for this hall.

But there was nothing glib in his passionate account of Schumann's great Fantasy. If he smudged some of the notorious jumps at the end of the second movement, it somehow seemed right: the final seal on his courage. His responsiveness to the self-renewing ardour of the first movement and his terracing of the dreamy vistas of the slow last movement were spellbinding. Goode had no problem, then, absorbing himself completely in the whimsical imagination of Debussy, playing four of the Preludes with grace, charm and colourful resource, but reaching the height of inspiration in "l'le Joyeuse" - probably Debussy's greatest piano piece.

A week later, Goode joined the American soprano Dawn Upshaw in a marvellous recital, the only dull patch during which was the Mirabai Songs by John Harbison, plain settings, as far as the voice part went, of Robert Bly's translations. The piano parts were sludgy and contributed no particular character. True, they competed with masterpieces by Schumann, Strauss, Debussy and Schubert, all magnificently performed.

Upshaw's voice can seem a bit relentless, yet she responded to the swift changes of character in Debussy's three Chansons de Bilitis with delicacy and precision, and threw herself into Schubert's Der Musensohn with hearty body gestures, virtually miming a translation for anyone too deaf to catch even her powerful voice. It was also unusual to see a classical artist delivering Rastlose Liebe with the ecstatic abandon of a rock singer.

Adrian Jack

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