At more than 2,500 seats, the Royal Festival Hall is a challenging venue for a solo piano recital. In the winter half of this year’s International Piano Series only Richard Goode is booked there, while the others have opted for the smaller Queen Elizabeth Hall next door – an irony when Goode is the last pianist alive to indulge in the kind of outgoing, knock-’em-dead playing that a hall of this size would seem to demand.
Now in his late 60s, Goode has risen to the top on his own terms. His favoured area of the repertoire is the classical era, where he is regarded especially highly as a Beethoven interpreter, and when he ventures further afield, he takes the mantle of a serious classicist with him.
For his recital on Sunday afternoon he offered one half Schumann, the other half Chopin. A few years ago Lang Lang played solo Schumann in this hall and his noisy, all-out assault on the music turned it into an incomprehensible gabble. There could hardly be a pianist at a further extreme to that than Goode, who started with a performance of Kinderszenen so understated that he might have been playing for himself alone. In the more heated emotions of Kreisleriana, exactly the kind of Schumann where Lang Lang had torn passion to shreds, Goode scrupulously kept the interweaving parts clear-headed, the intellect rigorously holding off any temptation to play the virtuoso.
The shorter pieces by Chopin were on a bigger scale, but not by much. The Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op.55 No.2, projected its singing lines with a little more intent. In the Scherzo No.3 the moments of introspection made more impact than Goode’s effortful double octaves. A group of three waltzes was perfectly contained. Even in the Third Ballade, where the music offers varied opportunities to show off, every invitation was eschewed in favour of story-telling that sang as artlessly as a Schubert ballad – an extraordinary act of denial, though an interesting change after all those pianists who like to play Chopin on steroids.
What we really want is for Goode to give a private recital for each of us in his drawing-room. Could the Royal Festival Hall please be shrunk to fit?