Stewart Goodyear plays for the Art of the Piano Festival in Cincinnati

Friday, June 2, 20017 at 7 pm, at CCM’s Werner Recital Hall.

Awadagin Pratt’s The Art of the Piano commenced this past Tuesday, but prior commitments kept me from going to their previous events. Tonight we attended Stewart Goodyear’s program, which included Baroque pieces by Orlando Gibbons and JS Bach, a Beethoven sonata, two Liszt warhorses and a couple of Ravel gems.

Stewart Goodyear has been developing an international reputation for his pianistic skills in a wide-ranging repertory. In tonight’s recital he proved his mettle, starting with a Pavane and Galliard, titled (and seemingly dedicated to) Lord Salisbury by Orlando Gibbons, an English composer whose music straddles the purity of late Renaissance keyboard pieces with the new harmonic explorations of the early Baroque.

Goodyear played delicately, preventing the deeper, darker colorations of the piano from overwhelming what was originally conceived for the lighter-voiced harpsichord, or perhaps the even brighter virginal.

J.S. Bach’s Partita no. 5 in G major, BWV 829, with its densely contrapuntal passagework is a test piece for any pianist. Stewart, always willing to allow the music to be at the forefront, was the dignified servant of the composition, playing with sobriety and elegance and never once imposing any interpretive eccentricities on the music throughout its seven dance-like movements.

Beethoven’s Sonata no. 28 in A Major, op. 101 is not among the notorious rabble-rousing compositions of the Bonn master. It is, instead, a rhapsodically lyric work that Beethoven asks to be played with heartfelt expression (innigsten Empfindung) from its first movement, marked quickly, but not too much so, through its resolutely faster second march-like movement, and on through the precisely marked and sentiment-filled third movement (slowly, but not too much so and with affection), finally climaxing in the optimistic concluding allegro.

Again, as in the Gibbons and the Bach, Goodyear’s playing was fervently intense, packed with emotion, responding to Beethoven’s directives yet remaining at all times in control of the intricacies of the music.

A welcome change of pace came in a Ravel group that included his Sonatine, a charming work written around the same time as the Basque master’s Miroirs. Goodyear humorously announced that he would substitute the programmed Alborada del Gracioso with Jets d’eau (from Miroirs) since Liszt’s Mephisto lurked around the corner, and two angry pieces one after the other was a bit much.

Goodyear, whose stunning French CD was reviewed elsewhere on this blog, played Ravel’s music with Gallic elegance and élan.

The Liszt warhorses alluded to in our opening paragraph came at the end of the recital, in a spot saved by Stewart Goodyear for the technical bravura pieces that are part of his formidable arsenal. The A-flat Liebenstraum got off to a quiet start redolent of the poem that inspired it, gradually developing into quintessential Liszt, with rippling cascades of notes in three separate inner cadenzas.

Inhabiting a demonic musical terrain, the A Major Mephisto Waltz is a mine field fit for fearless keyboard artists. Stewart Goodyear is one of those rare pianists: awesome in technical dexterity, unfailingly musical and stylish, balancing the impulses of a warm heart with the counsel of a cool brain. He entered the devilish world of the Mephisto Waltz and emerged triumphant at the end of a twelve-minute ride to Hell and back.

The audience would not let him leave, not even after a marathon two-hour recital, and so the generous pianist came back on stage with an encore: the treacherous final Allegro from Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in FC minor, Op. 57, Appassionata, played with the bravura to which Goodyear accustomed us all through this memorable Cincinnati visit.

Rafael de Acha