What could Bach and Chopin possibly have to say to each other?
Not much, it turns out. But the fact the two aren't on speaking terms didn't diminish the effect of Richard Goode's Thursday night recital at the Kimmel Center's Perelman Theater. Goode is a frequent visitor to the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, and this time he toggled back and forth between dance forms made inestimably more sophisticated by the two composers, who were separated by only a century.
Even if it's being a little too blunt, it's fair to say that Goode argued for considerably less extreme expressive liberties in Chopin than most other pianists do. And in Bach, if Goode's rubato was neither thickly applied nor understated, his choice of moments to apply that rubato was wise and satisfying.
What's wonderful about Goode is that his inner beat is unfailingly legible. He may stray from the basic tempo in both Chopin and Bach, sometimes even doing so multiple times within a bar, but you never lose the feeling of terra firma in time. This gives him the ability to be expressive within tasteful bounds.
How many times have we heard excessive fuss in Chopin's famous Waltz in C-sharp minor (Op. 64, No. 2)? Goode's plain-Jane simplicity was like stripping hazy lacquer from an old painting.
The most impressive nuance came in a group of mazurkas. Again, while maintaining inner pulse, Goode teased out the fine gradations of what it means to be coy, impish, or downright arch.
In the end, though, it was the Bach that I found more revelatory and better suited to the pianist's temperament. The "Gigue" from the French Suite in G major (BWV 816) was the beneficiary of Goode's highly developed contrapuntal clarity. All fine and good. But it was the pianist's incredibly clean and fast fluidity that moved the interpretation well beyond respectable into the rarer realms ruled by pure adrenaline.