RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2; Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor – Stewart Goodyear, p./ Czech Nat. Sym./ Heiko Mathias Foerster – Steinway & Sons

by | Jun 23, 2015 | Classical CD Reviews

RACHMANINOV: Piano Concerto No. 2 in c minor, Op. 18; Piano Concerto No. 3 in d minor, Op. 30 – Stewart Goodyear, piano/ Czech Nat. Sym./ Heiko Mathias Foerster – Steinway & Sons 30047, 76:06 (4/14/15) [Distr. by Naxos] ****: 

Canadian piano virtuoso Stewart Goodyear (b. 1978) seems to favor the colossal in music, such as his having performed all of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in a single day.  So the two middle Rachmaninov concertos (rec. 15-18 October 2014) satisfy his penchant for the romantic, color opulence and big sound the Russian composer provides. Along with the silken lyricism in the 1901 C Minor Concerto – after the opening Russian bells on F motif – in the first movement, we must admire the lush cello line that conductor Foerster invokes through his Czech ensemble.  Goodyear often brings out the somewhat paradoxical nature of the solo in the first movement: lacking a real cadenza, the keyboard display often serves as a luminous accompaniment to the orchestra-driven melodic tissue.  Goodyear basks in his broken and arpeggiated chords, the piano’s often parlando acceleration of the tempo, under which the cello choir urges the harmonic pulsation forward.

Horns, flute, and clarinet hold their own against the keyboard in the sweet, nocturnal Adagio sostenuto, with Goodyear’s interjecting an ostinato pattern and six melodic notes between clarinet phrases. The texture of the music proceeds with a studied delicacy, rather refreshed for those of us too long familiar with this concerto.  The piano’s later melodic tissue delicately progresses by Goodyear’s work with horn and strings, his strong cadential landings.  The silken scalar passages well suggest how much Bach the composer had absorbed into the creation of his melodic tissue.  The sudden transition to a more scherzando affect somewhat parallels the shape of the Chopin F Minor Concerto second movement.  More Russian bells in the keyboard against the cellos and then solo melt into the segue to the Allegro scherzando finale.  Here, Goodyear’s colored, pungent staccatos in the opening cadenza and subsequent dragonfly fingerwork alternately hesitate and then explode to the grand “Hollywood” theme show-stopper.  Happily, Goodyear and Foerster avoid most of the clichés of this popular work, which cannot help its own, garlanded esteem.
For the 1909 Third Concerto, Goodyear opts for the longer, uncut original version whose first movement cadenza alone often stymies lesser pianists.  The dark hues of this concerto once more nourish a rich cello line from the Czech National Symphony. Much of the keyboard writing evolves as a kind of chromatic etude, with the orchestra’s commenting and expanding upon melodic fragments in highly expressive gestures, as when the keyboard and French horn briefly colloquy. The pure stamina aspects of the keyboard writing – wide spans, speedy and dense counterpoints, massive octaves – Goodyear subsumes under an unbroken, progressively arching line.  The galloping, martial elements of the Concerto quite lift off into a controlled, Lisztian frenzy.  But with the return of the solo instruments after the huge cadenza, Goodyear’s gift for hypnotic lyricism asserts itself most convincingly, even diaphanously.

Some of the gloomy Russian soul enters in the A Major Intermezzo, courtesy of a solo oboe and responding winds, brass and strings.  A moment of anguish permeates the piano entry as well, which by jarring chromatics takes us back to the main theme. Goodyear sparkles, runs, and thunders with the theme until he collaborates with clarinet and bassoon for an impish 3/8 waltz sequence, possibly influenced by the Burleske of Richard Strauss.  A flash of virtuosic light, and Goodyear thrusts us, with galvanized panache, into the galloping last movement.  Acrobatically and often martially syncopated and deftly variegated, the color momentum of Alla breve finale never fails to engage the aural imagination in a grand scheme of color possibilities.  Typical of his Lisztian roots, Rachmaninov recycles the secondary theme of the first movement. The skittering figures in Goodyear’s luscious Hamburg Steinway Model C and the pizzicato strings, along with a “heartbeat” tympani, well register with us, courtesy of Recording Engineer Jan Kotzmann.   The moody and mercurially momentous Rachmaninov has found a gifted acolyte in Stewart Goodyear: nothing of the faint-hearted in these vigorous performances.

—Gary Lemco