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A Feast of pianist, Richard Goode’s Artistry and a walk down memory lane

I hand-selected a particular recital for an outing with my adult student, Jocel. While he’d suggested a Yuja Wang foray at Davies Concert Hall in San Francisco, I prodded him to first experience the sublime artistry of Richard Goode. (Location: Zellerbach Auditorium in Berkeley, CA, CAL PERFORMANCES series)

We were not disappointed.

Richard Goode Program

The last three Sonatas of Schubert were masterfully played, infused with a singing tone that reached the very pinnacle of vocal expression idealized by the composer in his body of lieder. (songs) And while the pianist produced a liquid sound, he wove a tapestry of colors through sonorities and passagework that had an ingrown allegiance to form. His phrases, well spun, had a larger meaning — motivic threads, sequences, transitional bridges, and harmonic progressions synthesized to produce powerful emotional expression and structural meaning.

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On a personal note, Richard Goode dates back to my NYC days, when the late Harris Goldsmith, Classical music reviewer at High Fidelity Magazine was a close companion. Such friendship borne of our mutual love for music, created unusual opportunities to partake of great performances up close and personal. At post concert receptions I met virtuosos such as Richard Goode, Ursula Oppens, and Richard’s close friend, Murray Perahia, though the latter was a classmate at the New York City High School of Performing Arts. Both Richard and Murray were regulars at the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center and were Marlboro alums, under the mentorship of Rudolf Serkin.

In the late 1960’s, Goldsmith invited me to hear “Richard” play the Schumann Fantasy at a Mannes College of Music Masterclass presented by Karl Ulrich Schnabel. (The reading had a signature sweep and beauty of phrasing that left an indelible memory) At the time, Murray was taking up conducting with Carl Bamberger, and both he and Richard had carved out rich chamber music careers before embarking upon their solo journeys.

Fast forward to October 26, 2014: Richard Goode, the seasoned, long-term emissary of divine music-making graced Zellerbach Hall in Berkeley and moved many audience members to tears. I was one of them.

Thank you, Richard for an inspiring afternoon!

me and Richard Goode

LINKS:

http://franksalomon.com/richardgoode

Interviews with Richard Goode on Israeli television

Interview with a Pianist’s pianist (San Francisco Classical Voice)

http://franksalomon.com/News/2014.10.19SanFranciscoClassicalVoiceInterview_1413914197.pdf

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Making Pianistic Compromises: Schubert Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90

I was struck by a post at Piano World.com about making compromises when playing difficult passages.

The writer referred to a technically challenging Chopin work:

“But I simply cannot manage to get every note in on the two long runs, the first of which comes on measure 15. When trying to play to speed, I just keep missing a note no matter how long or hard I practice it, and no matter what fingering I try. So I’ve just decided to play it the way I can. It sounds good enough, but not as good naturally as it would if I could manage it as written.”

I chimed in with my own response among a thread of others:

“The way I look at it, you do the best you can in the present, and hopefully in the future, as you grow in technical directions, things might change. A passage that reaches a plateau, doesn’t have to stay there forever. I like to think philosophically for the long term. Lord knows there are nearly impossible feats in lots of music.. Liszt, especially.. and Chopin as well. As for Scarlatti, one can go through the hoops, and crash, but still take another shot at it.”

My perspective remains level-headed when it comes to impossibly challenging passage work, ornaments, crossed-hand death defying leaps, and the rest.

For example, last night I double dared myself to YOU TUBE Schubert’s Impromptu in Eb, Op. 90, a composition with a relentless stream of ultra fast notes that make dizzying twists and turns at every TURN before they spill into a contrasting middle section that requires an instant mood swing. Before you know it, you gotta shift gears and be back IN the driver’s seat for the final spin around the track. There’s even an acceleration (accelerando) at the very end, that rivals the last lap of the Indy 500.

Oops, I didn’t mean to imply that this Schubert piece is anything like a NASCAR event, but for some who try to tackle it, a RACE to the finish line is a good comparison.

But here’s where we separate the men from the boys.

Schubert is about MELODY so no matter what break neck speed is chosen by a player, the melodic line must be shaped and preserved at all costs, not rendered as a moto perpetuo, Czerny type exercise.

With the Impromptu I think of the words, “Romantic music” as the framer of phrases.

So before I tweaked my tripod angling the camera toward the piano, I embedded my mantra, “fast melody–slow down, fast melody–slow down into my consciousness, hoping it would work a paradoxical effect.

Like I tell my students all the time, “Think fast when playing slow, and in reverse when playing fast.”

Did my mantra work?

In some places it did, but not in others, and that’s where the “pianistic compromise” issue comes full circle back to where we started in this conversation.

To sum up:

Accept where you are, and know it’s temporary because there’s never an end in sight, only a new beginning.

RELATED: A Slow Practice Approach to the Schubert Impromptu
in Eb, Op. 90

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Piano Instruction: A Slow Practice Approach to the Schubert Impromptu Op. 90, no.2 in Eb Flat Major (Video)

In Tempo reading:

Slow practice build-up approach:

This Romantic era Impromptu will always benefit from the type of slow practicing that permits careful shaping of phrases, attention to dynamics and other nuances. In the video, I magnify the contours of the work through a deliberately behind tempo approach.

Many students will say, that they can only play a piece like this one very quickly, or it will fall apart. To the contrary, if the pupil cannot play this composition in slow motion, it’s unlikely that he can meet its technical and artistic demands up to speed.

WARM UP with SCALES

As a start, practice the scale of the composition which is Eb Major. In this case, I would also play through the PARALLEL Eb MINOR, which has a particularly important presence in the first, triplet laden opening section and at the very end of the piece. In fact, the very moment Eb minor appears in the first part, it comes with a striking tonal change at a double soft, wistfully beautiful pianissimo level. During the concluding phrases of this section, there is a bigger, more powerful declamation of Eb minor supported by the harmonic progression TONIC, (i) SUBDOMINANT (iv) TONIC (i) leading to an Eb Minor Scale in the MELODIC FORM that lands on the THIRD DEGREE, Gb and is supported by a Gb MAJOR CHORD that becomes a DOMINANT of B minor (an ENHARMONIC KEY) Technically, we would expect to stay in FLATS and resolve to Cb MINOR, but Cb minor is a complex tonal universe to navigate. B minor in part TWO is easier to assimilate with a key signature of two sharps. Both Cb minor and B minor sound the same, (“enharmonically” related) though they are spelled differently.

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STRUCTURE

The first section is permeated by a stream of rolling triplets that should be limpid and smooth. Playing these figures, “legato,” is a challenge because it’s easy to render sharp angles and edges by using too much finger generated pokes or articulations. This is why wrist flexibility/suppleness are required. The wrist is the great shock absorber and its ability to help sculpt phrases should not be underestimated.

The middle section in B minor, with its rhythmic definitions and shifts is in stark contrast to the floating, flowing character of the opener, but it has a compelling duality. Measures with an underlying triplet, alternate with the division of the beat into quarters.

The composer returns to the Eb Major tonality with limpid triplets, before he transitions to a CODA (or ending) that is a compression of the theme presented in the B minor section. This final part of the Impromptu moves very quickly, accelerating to the final cadence chords in Eb but in the very poignant PARALLEL KEY of Eb MINOR. (REMINDER that the Impromptu is in the KEY of Eb MAJOR, though ending in the TONIC minor)

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CONCLUSION

Time spent practicing slowly and attentively is the worth the effort. It’s the best way to nurse a composition along to tempo with the nuances, dynamics and phrasing required, and it’s a step that should not be skipped in the learning process.