Goode, Better, Best

Pianist Richard Goode and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra offer superb versions of Mozart and Schubert masterworks.

By - Jan 26th, 2015 01:03 pm

Everyone knows Mozart was a genius; I could easily go a lifetime promising never to sound trite and to avoid saying this. Then I hear a work by him that is new to my ear, reflexively shake my head in awe, and say, “Man, Mozart was a genius.”

His remarkable outpouring of operas, symphonies, chamber works, and concerti all serve his reputation nicely regardless of hyperbole any critic cares to add. Mozart’s music, to paraphrase pianist Artur Schnabel, “is too simple for beginners and too hard for artists.”

Richard Goode

Richard Goode

However, on Saturday evening pianist Richard Goode, conductor Edo de Waart, and the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra gave Mozart’s music all of the effortless beauty and precision one could possibly ask for. Mozart’s Concerto No. 18 in B-flat major for Piano and Orchestra, K. 456 (Paradis) is a perfectly-cut gem. Astonishingly, this performance was a Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra premiere. Two hundred thirty-one years after it was written, there is something new from Mozart for the MSO audience to listen to, and it was good indeed.

This concerto is a charming conversation that takes place mostly between the winds and horns and the piano. This is not to say that the strings weren’t there—they were, superbly—however, the single flute, two oboes, two bassoons, and two horns harkened the sonority of one of Mozart’s splendid wind serenades with a piano obbligato. It occurred to me that one of the reasons this concerto hasn’t been heard here before is that no conductor in his right mind would knowingly put the horns in such peril. Written in the stratosphere of the horn’s range, one small slip would stand out like dogs howling in the night. Matthew Annin and Dietrich Hemann played up in the nosebleed range of their horns with impeccable skill. I bring this up because that kind of accuracy and clarion high-note playing, when done well, often goes unnoticed. Their perfection made their artistry seem as though it were easy. For your cool under fire, horns: bravo.

As beautifully as the winds and horns played, the star of the show was Richard Goode. His interpretation of Mozart was clear, confident, and playful. Goode’s musical ideas were just right. He coaxed a variety of sounds and dynamics from the piano, his technique was flawless, and the interplay between orchestra and piano was strikingly elegant. De Waart’s ability to control the balance between the two was notable. This performance was a real treat.

After intermission the orchestra performed Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 in C major, D. 944, “The Great.” In this masterwork, Schubert introduces a theme in each movement and then proceeds to develop that theme with great insistence. One either loves this symphony for its beauty and repetition or wearies of it quickly. I am in the “love it” camp, and the MSO played with relentless energy appropriate to the demands of the long, overarching architecture. The trombones, trumpets, and horns played their chorales and fanfares with first-rate intonation and balance, and the strings were rich and vibrant throughout. De Waart’s pacing kept the piece from seeming too long, and his well-trained orchestra responded with discipline and expressiveness.

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