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Richard Goode Masterclass

Schumann Humoreske in B flat, Op.20 Franz
Schubert Piano Sonata in B flat, D.960 Ludwig Van
Beethoven Piano Sonata in E flat, Op.81a (Les Adieux)

Diana Ionescu piano Ji Liupiano piano Konstantin Lapshin piano

Purcell Room 1 March 2008

Richard Goode, giving a piano masterclass as part of his current residency at London's South Bank, was equally illuminating as had been fortepianist Robert Levin last week, but totally different.

He brought to it his own profound experience of the works to be studied and in the limited time allocated devoted himself exclusively to imparting his insights to his pupils of the day. Goode was supplied with an invisible microphone and at the back of the hall his every word was completely audible as if you were next to him. We in the audience which filled the Purcell Room were merely eavesdroppers.

The subjects, each with impressive-looking CVs, were advanced students from Moscow, Bucharest and Shanghai, now attending London's Royal College and Academy, and the Guildhall SMD.

Goode was hard pressed by time limitations to illuminate and interpret the kaleidoscopic expressive requirements which crowd in such rapid succession into the first movement of Op 81a. He demonstrated his thoughts at the keyboard and Konstantin Lapshin was quick to pick up many of them.

The high spot of the afternoon, for Richard Goode as well of the rest of us, was the intensity and passion brought to Schumann's Humoreske by Diana Ionescu, her unassuming manner belying commanding pianism and mature musicianship, with the work so thoroughly assimilated in preparation that she was able to respond immediately to ideas that will doubtless enhance her interpretations of a composer with whom she is in particular sympathy; hear her at the Guildhall May 12 in Schumann's piano quintet with the Belcea Quartet.

Richard Goode had to adjust downwards to a very different level to try tactfully to teach basics of phrasing and voicing Schubert to the 18 year old Chinese Ji Liupiano whose immaturity showed him, despite having played at master classes "for such as Claude Frank, Menahem Pressler, Seymour Lipkin, Boris Berman, Zoltan Kocsis, Paul Badura-Skoda, Fou Ts’ong, Ivan Klansky, Jiri Hlinka, Barry Douglas, Lylia Zilberstein, Ida Kavafian, Kristina Steinegger,Pamela Frank, Yuri Bashmet, Salvatore Accardo, Miami String Quartet, Ying String Quartet, Brentano String Quartet, and Tokyo String Quartet among others" quite unready to assay the great Bb sonata.

I hope he will have had a friend there recording the session...

Emerson Quartet with Gilbert Kalish
Queen Elizabeth Hall 1 March 2008

Beethoven String Quartet in C minor, Op.18 No.4
Brahms String Quartet in C minor Op.51 No.1
Piano Quintet in F minor, Op.34 (Gilbert Kalish piano)

We had some concerns about the Emersons a year ago, finding their Beethoven playing not as involving as anticipated, and this was so again today. Op 18/4, the most powerful of the composer's early quartets, sounded dutiful and routine; but hopefully fresh and new to many of the audience which filled the Queen Elizabeth Hall for this Resident Ensemble of the South Bank Centre, launching a Brahms series of three concerts on three successive days.

Several full houses recently (not to speak of the unprecedented Barenboim phenomenon last month) suggest that modern marketing is working...

For the first Brahms quartet, never my favourite of the three, I was able to move to one of a few empty seats lower down. I again found myself disappointingly uninvolved and felt that their playing standing up was a ploy that did little to help these no-longer-young men to communicate. Following the score part of the time, I was conscious how Brahms' persistent rhythmic dislocations and syncopations had diminsihing returns.

However, it was for the Brahms piano quintet that we had sought to cover this particular recital of the series and here there was no disappointment. Joined by pianist Gilbert Kalish the quartet was galvanised, their joint balance and clarity of ensemble perfect.

This work (which gave the young Brahms trouble, passing through versions for string quintet and two pianos before reaching its final form) has been for me one of the most important chamber works in my long musical life.

As a youngster, I first got to know and love Op 34 through shellac discs on an aunt's wind-up horn gramophone, and that recording (Rudolf Serkin and the Busch Quartet) became imprinted on my mind as one of the glories of my newly-discovering world of classical music - others there were the young Arrau's Carnaval and the Kajanus first recording of Sibelius' 5th...

Most performances of the Brahms quintet in the intervening decades failed to replace that memory or fully satisfy; after another such disappointment last year I was delighted to find on Amazon that fabulous Busch/Serkin version on CD transfer and renew my acquaintance with it. Yesterday, with the Emersons and Kalisch it was as if they were reborn, but even more vividly heard live close to the action.

Was that old recording a conscious influence on the Americans or had they arrived independently at similar solutions of the performance problems? Whatever, this was a great experience to complete a long afternoon and evening (Richard Goode's master class beforehand) and for me closed a circle going back to the 1940s...

Peter Grahame Woolf

The Emersons have recorded the Brahms Quintet with Leon Fleisher; see an interesting discussion of their Brahms quartets performances in America: "-- formidable but vulnerable to emptiness --"