By Janelle Gelfand
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Gramophone magazine calls him "America's best kept secret." Reviewers praise his probing music making and his glowing touch.
Richard Goode does not have the lady-killer charm of Arthur Rubinstein, or the bigger-than-life presence of Vladimir Horowitz - two piano giants of the 20th century. But legions of fans have discovered his pristine recordings of Mozart and Beethoven, and he has earned a place in the upper echelon of America's best pianists.
So who are today's piano giants?
Mozart Piano Concertos (left), three discs with two piano concertos each, with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Nonesuch; $16.98 each)
The Late Sonatas, Beethoven Piano Sonatas Op. 101, 106, 109, 110 and 111 (Nonesuch; $33.98)
Bach Partitas Nos. 1, 3 and 6 (Nonesuch; $16.98)
Sonatas for Clarinet and Piano, Op. 120, with Richard Stoltzman (RCA; $11.98)
"For whatever reason, the giants in the creative fields are harder to come by," says the Grammy-winning pianist, who will make his Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra debut this weekend. "But I think there are wonderful pianist-musicians around, and quite a few who put the emphasis where it should be."
Goode continues the legacy of his teachers Rudolf Serkin and Claude Frank with his performances of Mozart and Beethoven. But he is playing neither with the CSO. He'll make his debut with Bartok's Concerto No. 3.
"When I was a kid I learned a lot of Bartok," explains Goode, who grew up in the Bronx. His teacher, Elvira Szigeti - aunt of the famous Hungarian violinist Josef Szigeti - sprinkled his Bach and Beethoven with a lots of Bartok, a Hungarian composer famed for his folk music.
"I had this music in my ear," he says. "The Third Concerto was also a piece that I knew from listening at an early age. Besides the fact I loved the piece, was the fact that it had been written by this great composer when he lived in the Bronx."
Bartok immigrated to the United States in 1940, and died in New York five years later. His Third Concerto, one of the last works he composed in 1945, is the most Mozart-like of his compositions.
"I think Bartok has the deepest roots in the classical past," Goode says. "One of the reasons I feel close to it (is because) it seems to be a continuation of much of the music that I feel most at home with."
Goode's discography lies solidly in the Austro-German repertoire. He was the first American-born pianist to undertake the daunting feat of recording the complete (32) Beethoven Piano Sonatas, which was nominated for a 1994 Grammy Award.
His recordings of Mozart Concertos with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra (Nonesuch) are spellbinding. On one disc, he captures the sunny beauty of Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, and the drama and richness of Concerto No. 24 in C Minor, K. 491.
Chamber music is another forte. Goode's album of the Brahms Clarinet Sonatas with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman won a Grammy Award. He continues to be an active chamber musician, and is co-artistic director of the Marlboro Music School and Festival in Marlboro, Vermont with pianist Mitsuko Uchida.
It was at Marlboro where, as a 14-year-old boy, Goode first heard the legendary Serkin play.
"My road led through studying with Serkin, through Marlboro, and through chamber music," says Goode. "For many years I was concentrating more in chamber music. (It) was my mainstay."
He communicates a natural warmth that indicates his success has little to do with ego.
"One thing led to another. I won a competition or two, but it wasn't the winning of competitions that did much for me," he says. "It had more to do with the gradual growth and realization."
A few years ago, Goode's career was interrupted while he wrestled with tendinitis. Yet he remained optimistic, and came back after 18 months of therapy.
"It was something that lots of instrumentalists get into - compression around the neck and shoulders," he says.
"It was not a terrible time for me, because for much of the time I felt I was on the mend," he says. "I was practicing the Bach French Suites, and had a good deal of time to think about music."
He's just recorded another Mozart album - sonatas and short piano pieces. These days, he's curtailed his fondness for singing along with his playing - something that once stopped a recording session dead in its tracks.
"I think I've improved - either my voice has gotten better or gotten softer!" he laughs.
If you go
What: Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, Paavo J”rvi, conductor; Richard Goode, pianist
When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday
Where: Music Hall
Tickets: $13-$54; 381-3300 or cincinnatisymphony.org
The program: Ravel, Five Nursery Songs from Mother Goose; Bartok, Piano Concerto No. 3; Mozart, Symphony No. 40 in G Minor, K. 550
Classical Conversations: At 7 p.m. with pianist Michael Chertock
Read the review: Saturday at Cincinnati.Com, keyword "music review" and Sunday in Tempo
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