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CD Review

Johann Sebastian Bach

Partitas for Keyboard

  • Partita #1, BWV 825
  • Partita #3, BWV 827
  • Partita #6, BWV 830
Richard Goode, piano
Nonesuch 79698-2 DDD 65:11
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Goode's CD of Partitas #2, 4, and 5 was released in 1999 (Nonesuch 79483-2) to critical acclaim. Those recordings were made over a relatively extended period of time at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in New York City. In contrast, this equally worthy follow-up CD was recorded in the same venue over the course of just three days in June 2002.

This is old-fashioned pianism at its finest. Add some surface noise to these readings and it would be easy to pass them off to the unsuspecting as the work of Walter Gieseking, for example. Goode plays these works intimately, even the grand Partita #6. Not once did I get the feeling that he was showing off his agility, his stamina, his ability to clarify interlocking voices, or his emotional discernment. That's not to say that these readings lack "chops," nor are they lofty or cold. Goode is like the person at a meeting who doesn't say much and doesn't say it very loudly, but who compels everyone to listen with the strength of his argument.

Goode doesn't play metronomically; he varies the pulse slightly for the sake of expression, but never to the point of exaggeration. He favors smooth, legato articulation over the more staccato style of João Carlos Martins, for example. He rarely adds ornamentation of his own, but when he does it is stylistically appropriate. Most repeats are taken, although he is not absolutely consistent on this point.

Even looking only at "inauthentic" versions for piano, there are many excellent recordings of this repertoire. No one should miss, to name three, Gould's iconoclasm, Martins's brilliance, and Nikolayeva's poise. Of these pianists, Goode is closest to Nikolayeva. Goode's engineering is much better however, and he enters into a one-on-one relationship with the listener more readily than the late Russian pianist does.

Interesting booklet notes by Michael Steinberg add to the value of this release. Now, if Goode could be induced to record all of Bach's keyboard music, he and Nonesuch would earn my gratitude.

Copyright © 2003, Raymond Tuttle