Chamber Orchestra Review Print



Orpheus is Good, and Goode "Sings" Like Orpheus

October 6, 2002 - Durham, NC:


Richard Goode, the pianist who is often called a pianist's pianist, and who may even be the pianist of all pianists' pianists, and whose many duties include the Co-Artistic Directorship (with Mitsuko Uchida) of the Marlboro School and Festival, appeared in the Triangle (at Duke, on that University's Artists Series) on the evening of October 6, for the first time in memory. It won't be his last gig here - he is slated to give a recital on the NC Symphony's Great Artists Series next March. In Page Auditorium, he was partnered, as it were, by Orpheus, the conductor-less chamber orchestra whose veterans include at least one (and perhaps more) now-locally-based artist/teacher. One shouldn't think that the absence of a person in a penguin suit with a little stick means that Orpheus is leaderless, however. The ensemble does leadership workshops and seminars for business and industry, explaining how teamwork can be effective in environments where it isn't always the norm. (An announcement of one of these may be found at http://www.stevens-tech.edu/executive/orpheus/program.htm [inactive 9/03].) And seeing Orpheus is every bit as informative as hearing them is pleasurable, for one may actually witness the passing of the imaginary baton around among the players, depending upon where they happen to be at any given moment in the score. Beyond that, we can't tell our readers who "led" the three works played in Durham, for the person in the concertmaster's chair (and the concertmaster would, normally, be the nominal leader of the band, without a conductor, and sometimes leads anyway, even if there is one...) changed from piece to piece.

Goode's presence was salutary in many respects. He's a great player, and he's absolutely in tune with the partnership approach to doing things that is Orpheus' hallmark, and he was in top form in Durham, as he and the others delivered a superb reading of Beethoven's Fourth Piano Concerto. What wasn't stated in the hall (or in the notes, if memory serves) is that this was the first time Goode has played this concerto with Orpheus, despite the fact that they have been active and frequent collaborators for twenty or more years.

Because he insisted on reviewing only what was there, as opposed to what wasn't , the late critic, pianist, and St. Mary's teacher Donald Peery, one of my several mentors in this business, will roll over, wherever he is, as I say that the only thing that was disappointing about the evening - literally the only thing - was that the score chosen was the standard one (given, however, with somewhat fewer strings than is the norm), rather than the chamber version, rediscovered not too long ago and presumably premiered (or perhaps re-premiered) in London in late 1997 by Goode's Marlboro pal, Uchida. That version is for fortepiano and string quintet, and the fortepiano part is not the same as the well-known standard version, so it is presumed that only Beethoven himself would (or could) have played it. Goode could surely have done so, and here's a vote for him to take it up before too long. A fine scholarly article on it, by Hans-Werner Küthen, appears in the Summer 1998 issue of the Beethoven Journal, a copy of which we obtained during UNCG's "Focus on Beethoven" last June, where Beethoven scholar William Meredith, editor of the Journal and head of the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, in San Jose, was one of the speakers.

The performance had everything a good reading of a Beethoven concerto should have and none of the nonsense that one too often encounters at more routine concerts - there were no soggy strings, no instances of poor balance, no misshapen phrases created while soloist X or stick-waver Y made some arcane point or other, and, for that matter, no bizarre "foreign" cadenzas from far beyond Beethoven's time. It would have been worth the trip just for this part, but there was more on the bill of fare.

The concert departed from conventional programming norms by omitting any overtures or potboilers and by including instead two symphonies, both played, also atypically, in the first half. First up was Haydn's saucy Symphony in D, nicknamed "La Chasse," given a bracing performance. It was a delight to hear it on the heels of the Ciompi Quartet's equally fine rendition of the late Quartet in F ("Lobkowitz"), in part because Orpheus managed to achieve comparable levels of intensity and clarity in the Symphony, which is no small trick.

And there was more of the same in the first half's second number, the rarely-encountered Symphony No. 1 by Elliott Carter. Now there's a hard nut to crack, some readers will be thinking. And indeed it was clever programming to have this piece on the first half of the show, with the concerto after intermission. Had that not been the case, chances are the audience would have melted away in droves. Even we might have sought to escape, if we'd been faced with, say, one of his thorny quartets. But this Symphony, written during WWII, is, like so many scores penned then, warm and positive and sort of (given that it's by Carter) all-encompassing. It is certainly not at any point off-putting, and Orpheus put it over with palpable affection, mingled in with the ensemble's customary crack precision. There was considerable applause, and there would surely have been even more, if people had had a few more seconds to get over the fact that the piece was by..., well, Carter!

For the record, this program is being repeated in Carnegie Hall on 10/12.

*On 2/20/03, we determined that Creative Loafing has pulled the plug on the old Spectator archives. For copies of reviews by former Spectator writers now affiliated with CVNC , contact CVNC .