Stewart Goodyear’s 5 Beethoven concerti

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It would not be unreasonable to label the extraordinary Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear as a Beethoven specialist, given his lifelong passion for the music of that composer and his ongoing commitment to record the piano works of the Bonn master and to play them in live performances.

But Goodyear’s prolifically varied output says otherwise, encompassing as it does everything from Bach to Gershwin.

Here in my enthusiasm I digress, as my task is to comment on Goodyear’s recent 3CD ORCHID CLASSICS (ORC100127) impressive release of all five of Beethoven’s concertos for piano and orchestra.

The Piano Concerto No. 1 was first performed by the composer himself in Vienna in April of 1800. Labeled number one in the Beethoven catalogue it was in reality Beethoven’s third piano concerto, although first to be published.

With Andrew Constantine superbly helming the BBC Orchestra of Wales, Goodyear is in fine and free fettle in the First, asserting himself in the opening Allegro by first playing firmly but with a perfectly light touch, then blossoming into a fully-voiced extended cadenza without obscuring the classical restraint of this 1797 work while letting us know in no uncertain terms that he is a past master of the grand gesture.

The opening of the ensuing Largo is exquisitely and intimately played by Goodyear as in a solo with the kind of nobility and intense musicality listeners have come to associate with his music making. In due course the orchestra joins him all the while maintaining the mood of quiet intensity that is ultimately changed into a lively Allegro Scherzando.

In 1795 Beethoven performed a piano concerto of his that later got published in 1801 as No.2 in B flat, Op. 19. Perhaps more under the influence of Mozart than any of his other piano concertos, this youthful work still reveals the musical DNA of Beethoven, with an unflagging balance of underlying passion and clarity of surface. Here again Stewart Goodyear uses joyful playfulness in the opening Allegro, delicacy and unflagging legato in the second movement, and dancelike humor in the final mock-Turkish Rondo.

The uncertainty of the date for the composition of the Piano Concerto No.3 in C minor, Op.37, can lead to more confusion as to the chronology of Beethoven’s concertos for the piano, although its 1803 premiere along with the Second Symphony and its subsequent publication in 1804 situates it following the first that is really the third and the second that is really the first.

But cataloguing vagaries aside, what is clear in this recording is the mix of nobility of utterance, classical elegance, pure joyfulness, and underlying wistfulness with which Beethoven imbues this quintessentially Romantic composition, both of which Goodyear mines, coming up with pure musical gold.

By the completion and premiere of the Piano Concerto No.4 in 1806, with Beethoven as soloist, the composer had hit his stride, writing with an assurance and a command of structure and style that made the newspaper of record exclaim it to be “the most admirable, singular, artistic and complex Beethoven concerto”.

And indeed, structurally novel and groundbreaking in its repetition of a melodic kernel from the first into the subsequent movements, and finally in its way of linking movement to movement, the fourth appeared to be the ne plus ultra of 19th century compositions for piano and orchestra. Little did anyone know that the monumental Emperor Concerto was just less than four years away.

Here as in the previous four concertos, Stewart Goodyear is in command of some unreasonably challenging music. Just listen to how he handles the separate though parallel voices in the first movement, with a rumbling bass controlled by the artist’s left hand and a right hand that steadily draws a plangent singing tone out of eighty-eight ivories and an undetermined number of taut metal strings.

Listen to the all-in-service to the music approach Goodyear takes with not for a moment any hint of self-aggrandizement or pizzazz or posing or posturing yet imprinting into every bar of music the mark of a refined spirit.

It is lamentable that the current world-wide health crisis has brought to a temporary standstill the performing career of this protean pianist. At least we have a temporary palliative in Stewart Goodyear’s recordings.

Rafael de Acha http://www.MusicNotes.com