On Wednesday night, March 15, Richard Goode gave one of his Carnegie Hall concert, an annual event that gives us a sense of satisfaction few other pianists can do. He makes us think all is well with the world. He projects a Daoistic sense of harmony—he is so well balanced. He played Bach in the first half and Chopin in the second. In both he played with patience, care, and In love wih his chosen subject matter.
In the Bach I noticed he played so as to hide the idea of the piano as a percussive instrument. He played non-percussively; the sounds seemed to float from the piano, coaxed by a soft touch of hands that seldom moved above the keyboard. He may be the master of understatement. His right and left hands were always in harmony making for an even sound.
The Chopin included four nocturnes; four mazurkas grouped together; a Ballade ending with a Barcarolle, Op 60. This was an illumination into Chopin’s introspective works of complexity and genius, so unlike anything else, standing, like Bach, as landmarks in the history of music. I would venture that Goode himself is a landmark, playing in an individualistic style that does honor to the music while treating us listeners as students in a class of classical instruction.
On Thursday, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s New Music Series brought us four works by living French composers. If these are a cross-section of what is going on in the wake of Messian, we are greatly encouraged. These were all accessible, musical, and amusing pieces by real talents played by distinguished musicians gathered by CMS from Europe and the U.S. for two concerts, one at 6:30 and the other at 9 pm.
Philippe Hersant’s Im fremden Land for sextet of clarinet, two violins, viola, cello and piano of 2002 was melodic, rich in harmonics, full of textures, contrasts. It was based on a song that in the 15th century was worked into a Lutheran chorale and later was used by Bach. It was most evident in the final section entitled Choral where the clarinet, played by Tommaso Longquich, sang over the strings.
Eric Tanguy’s Sonata for two Violins, was played by Nicolas Dautricourt and Bella Hrsistova (depicted in teaser photo by Lisa-Marie Mazzuco), both former members of CMS. Both are building notable careers; they excelled in virtuosity while working closely together in a fascinating trial of not quite being together, but just slightly off, like a semi-sweet chocolate.
The pianist of the evening, Jean-Frederic Neuberger, was the composer of Plein Ciel for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano of 2013. This had orchestral qualities, big sounds alternating and wonderful clarinet played by Longquich. The composer describes the clarinet as a bird, struggling for freedom who finds liberation. There is a march, turbulence, soaring birdsong, dense dissonances and ever changing textures. We thought this was a most interesting piece, a gem in the tradition of Messian.
Guillaume Connesson’s Sextet for Oboe, Clarinet, Violin, Viola, Bass and Piano (1997) was even more orchestral. The opening movement “Dynamique” began with a building of tension with allusions to Philip Glass; in the second movement, “Nocturne,” the clarinet achingly seeks the stars against a setting of base and piano, American jazz and Gershwin, a suggestion of swing and an allusion to Schubert’s “Trout” make “Festif” a joyful conclusion.
As we left the hall, we thought how rare it was to leave a concert of new music feeling uplifted and encouraged. Things are not all that bad: we have seriously good music being composed that is appealing, comforting, and joyful. And we have seriously good musicians playing that music. What could be better?