Stewart Goodyear – an extraordinary pianist

Every time I hear Stewart Goodyear play I am reminded of what an extraordinary pianist he is. That just happened when I received a copy of his CD Phoenix from the enterprising label Bright Shiny Things.

Flawlesly engineered, mixed, and mastered by Daniel Shores, elegantly produced by Dan Mercurio and Louis Levitt, and nicely packaged and designed by Marian C. Holmes and Julia-Buz, the CD was recorded back in February of this year and just released. It features an intriguing selection of contemporary music by Jennifer Higdon, Anthony Davis, and Stewart Goodyear himself.

Accompanying the new music is Debussy’s La cathedrale engloutie and L’isle joyeuse, in addition to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.

First things first: the music. Anthony Davis’ compelling Middle Passage forcefully depicts in dissonant and often violently dramatic music the trans-Atlantic slave trade in which millions of enslaved Africans were transported to North America, the Caribbean, Central, and South America in subhuman conditions. It is harrowing music that tells a disturbing story and literally grabs the listener and won’t let go.

Goodyear gives Middle Passage an energetically played reading, as he does his own Caribbean-inflected Congotay, a joyous incorporation of Trinidadian Soca rhythms into a classically-grounded pianistic technique.

Jennifer Higdon’s Secret and Glass Gardens takes its title and gives it musical meaning in music both mysterious and crystalline that avails itself of an expansive vocabulary of massive chords, glissandi, arpeggios, and subtle snippets of melody while avoiding a firmly central tonality.

As with Jennifer Higdon’s Secret and Glass Gardens, Stewart Goodyear capitalizes on the delicate aspects of Debussy’s quintessentially Gallic music: nobly serious in La cathedrale engloutie with those bottomless chords, and riotously happy in L’isle joyeuse.

The longest piece in Goodyear’s CD is Modeste Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition. A suite made up of an introduction which comes back several times in between its ten episodes, the 1874 composition for piano by the 35 year old composer fares far better with this listener than the all-too-much Ravel arrangement for orchestra. Here, in its original form, Goodyear takes judicious tempi much closer to Mussorgsky’s originally intended ones, bringing out the clarity of the work and the humor inherent in many of the sardonically descriptive episodes: Bydio, Ballet of Un-hatched Chicks, The Hut on Hen’s Legs, and the majesty in The Old Castle and The Great Gate of Kiev.

Stewart Goodyear closes the CD with a work titled Panorama – a work so Cuban-sounding that even this Havana-born listener was fooled into thinking it was the music of my compatriots Alejandro Garcia-Caturla or that of Amadeo Roldan I was hearing.

Thank you for the memories and thank you for all the good music!

Rafael de Acha                  ALL ABOUT THE ARTS