TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor – Stewart Goodyear, p./ Czech Nat. Sym./ Stanislav Bogunia – Steinway & Sons

by | Oct 3, 2014 | Classical CD Reviews

TCHAIKOVSKY: Piano Concerto No. 1 in B-flat Minor, Op. 23; GRIEG: Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op. 16 – Stewart Goodyear, piano/ Czech Nat. Sym./ Stanislav Bogunia – Steinway & Sons 30035, 62:04 (6/10/14) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:

Recorded 16-17 July 2013 in Prague, the familiar combination of the 1875 Tchaikovsky and 1868 Grieg Concertos receives genuinely refreshed readings from Canadian virtuoso Stewart Goodyear, who openly relishes their “greatest hits” status. Engineer Stanislav Baroch places particular emphasis on the bass tones of Mr. Goodyear’s Hamburg Steinway C, especially as Goodyear makes his dreamy runs in A-flat Major development section of the Tchaikovsky Allegro con spirito. The scale of the first movement projects its often seamless power, given Tchaikovsky’s (Schumann) penchant of repeating every linear phrase twice to assure us of its “classical” architecture. The Czech National Symphony proceeds just as committed to Tchaikovsky’s sense of grandeur, blasting the tuttis better to contrast with Goodyear’s intimate, pearly play in the brief and then extended cadenza of the movement. The melodic antiphons likewise palpitate with rhapsodic, erotic energy, not so monumental as those of Richter and Karajan, but certainly within a strongly bravura tradition traceable to virtuosi like Rubinstein and Horowitz.

The solo flute announces the Andante semplice with as much pastoral tenderness as the first movement coda exhibited robust might.  The prestissimo section from the soprano Desiree Artot’s signature song, Il faut s’amuser, danser et rire sings rambunctiously, cavorting with fleet panache. With equally studied grace, the da capo section returns with limpid poignancy. With the sharp rap of the tympani and the sizzling pizzicato strings and high winds, the Allegro con fuoco vaults us into a mesmerizing alternation of urgent octane and lulling legato, ornamented by jumping figures and whirling filigree. With a well-honed sense of anticipation we await Goodyear’s final, blistering octave runs to the peroration, again propelled by a tympani stroke.  The last pages testify to a gifted devotee’s unqualified allegiance to one of the great display pieces for piano and orchestra.

Goodyear details his discovery of the Grieg Concerto via his grandparent’s LP of Song of Norway. Alert to the Concerto’s synthesis of Norwegian folk materials and the nostalgia present in Peer Gynt, Goodyear makes plastic magic of the melodic tissue without having become affectively overbearing. The presto passages retain their articulate capacity to serve as thematic transitions as well virtuoso filigree, and Goodyear has a strong, lucid trill.  The first movement’s natural, even conservative, sway between A Minor and C Major flows effortlessly, moving in fine periods to the studied cadenza that conveys a Nordic confidence in every bar. The marvelous Adagio in D-flat Major has always the sense of the oriental ink-painting, the sense of space and musical matter in mysterious juxtaposition. The orchestral sarabande in muted colors gives way to a most persuasive realization of delicate, folk tracery from Goodyear’s Steinway, and the two forces converge in grateful harmony throughout. The Allegro moderato molto e marcato suavely combines a festive, often explosive, halling with a bucolic song for flute and keyboard. The sheer rhythmic acuity of the music, along with Goodyear’s deft realization, make for repeated listening. If Mr. Goodyear claims Song of Norway as his inspirational impetus, I claim Louis de Rochemont’s film Windjammer with the same seductive power for the most perfect of the world’s classical piano concertos.

—Gary Lemco

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