Saturday, May 2, 2015

Review: Goode & Shafer

Richard Goode, piano
Sarah Shafer, soprano
May 2, Virginia Commonwealth University

The esteemed American pianist Richard Goode has spent much of his career serving as a mentor to young musicians, notably in 14 years (1999-2013) as co-artistic director, with Mitsuko Uchida, of Marlboro, the music school and festival in Vermont. More recently, Goode has been performing chamber concerts and recitals with young colleagues.

In the last of this season’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts at Virginia Commonwealth University, Goode performed with the young soprano Sarah Shafer, accompanying her in art-songs by Brahms, Fauré and Debussy, interspersed with his performances of solo-piano works by those composers.

Shafer, whose operatic career is blossoming rapidly, boasts a rich, robust voice whose maturity belies her age. She brings a palpable sense of drama to her performances. These qualities enhanced some of the repertory she chose for this program – Brahms’ “Auf dem Kirchhofe” (“In the Churchyard”), for example, and in a contrasting vein, “Ariettes oubliées,” Debussy’s settings of six poems of Paul Verlaine.

In more intimate or conversational pieces, however, Shafer’s delivery was simply too theatrical. Toning down to the scale of art-song doesn’t come naturally to many opera singers; they tend to inflate or “oversell” songs. There was a good deal of this is Shafer’s performance – but also evidence, in two pieces by Fauré, “Les Berceaux” (“The Cradles”) and “Après un Rêve” (“After a Dream”), that she grasped the distinction between art-song and operatic aria.

Goode has long been recognized as a master of Austro-German classical and romantic repertory, and his treatments of three numbers from Brahms’ Op. 76 set, the capriccios in F sharp minor and B minor and Intermezzo in A flat major, lived up to that high repute.

His performance of Fauré’s Nocturne in D flat major, Op. 63, emphasized the composer’s romanticism over his proto-impressionism – Goode made the piece sound almost like Gallic Schumann. In three of Debussy’s piano preludes, Goode’s showed gratifying sensitivity to subtleties of color and articulation, but also a touch of rhythmic brittleness.