Soprano Sarah Shafer & pianist Richard Goode. (courtesy of Spivey Hall)

Review: Goode, Shafer winningly perform songs and solos from Mozart to Fauré

Mark Gresham | 03 APR 2019

Pianist Richard Goode and soprano Sarah Shafer shared the stage this past Sunday afternoon in a recital of French and Austrian music at Spivey Hall. As pianist Emanuel Ax did for his solo recital the previous week, Goode chose Spivey’s “Clara” Steinway for Sunday’s performance.

Their program alternated between vocal sets and solo piano works, which is an appealing way to give the vocalist due rest, a little more spotlight to the pianist through solo spots, and the audience a little variety in the mix versus an all-out vocal recital. And yet the sequence of works in this instance, by Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert, followed by Debussy and Fauré after intermission, gave the progress of entire program a nicely threaded feeling as well as a certain refreshing lightness of being to the familiar repertoire.

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Shafer’s voice seemed most at home with the earlier classical repertoire, like the group of four songs by Mozart with which She and Goode opened: “Das Veilchen” (“The Violet”), “Die Kleine Spinnerin” (“The little spinner”), “Als Luise die Briefe ihres ungetreuen” (“As Luise burned the letters of her unfaithful lover”) and “Abendempfindung” (“Evening Sensations”). In Spivey’s immaculate acoustics, she was at her most nuanced and clear-times from mezzo-forte down to a delicate pianissimo. Above that dynamic range, she tended to risk those things when reaching for volume.

In that set and the Schubert and Fauré songs that would come later, Goode was careful with his volume and kept his playing sensitive and transparent – always an asset when accompanying the voice – without simply “accompanying.” Shafer and Goode made for fine musical collaboration in all of the evening’s vocal repertoire.

Goode was the first American-born pianist to record all 32 of Beethoven’s piano sonatas, released as a 10 CD box set in 1993 by Elektra Nonesuch, which subsequently re-released it in 2005 then again in 2017 (Elektra Nonesuch 7559 79363-8). For his first solo segment in this recital Goode chose from among them the lyrical Piano Sonata no. 27 in E Minor, Op. 90, the last of Beethoven’s middle-period piano sonatas. The 13-minute gem has only two movements, the first in E minor and the second in E major. Its place on the program between the opening Mozart songs and the half dozen Schubert songs that closed the first half was well-chosen.

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All of the six Schubert songs were settings of texts by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “Ganymed” (the mythic youth Ganymede), “Rastlose Liebe” (“Restless Love”), “Wonne der Wehmut” (“Delight in Melancholy”), “Gretchen am Spinnrade” (“Gretchen at the Spinning Wheel”), “Wandrers Nachtlied II” (“Wanderer’s Nightsong”) and “Suleika I.” –The one caveat is that the poem for the last one, unbeknownst to Schubert or anyone else at the time, was actually written by Marianne von Willemer, a woman with whom Goethe had had a literary love affair, trading poems under the pseudonyms Suleika and Hatem. Goethe had published it under his own name.

Coming after intermission, Goode’s second solo piece, and my own favorite on the program, was Images, Book II by Claude Debussy. “Cloches à travers les feuilles” (“Bells through the leaves”) played with contrasting clear and muted sonorities, with an impression of chimes in the distance. The soft, planed quartal and tradic harmonies of “Et la lune descend sur le temple qui fut” (“And the moon descends on the temple that was”) evoked an atmosphere of stillness and ethereal oriental flavor, rarely rising above pianissimo even when the composer demands detailed marqué and expressif moments from the pianist. “Poissons d’or” (“Goldfish”) delighted in trills and tremolos, with a fluidly agitated texture that ultimately rose to fortissimo before diminishing in a final cadenza that brought the piece to a quiet end.

Shafer and Goode closed the concert with Gabriel Fauré’s La Bonne Chanson, Op. 61, a cycle of nine songs on poems drawn from the eponymous collection by Paul Verlaine, but not set in the same order. Five main musical themes recur throughout the cycle, appearing together in the last song, “L’hiver a cessé” (“Winter has ended”), further unifying the cycle, which was performed winningly. Shafer and Goode returned to the music of Schubert for an ebullient encore, “Der Musensohn” (“The Son of the Muses”), another song with a text by Goethe. ■

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