Every so often one encounters an artist or perhaps a group of players who give a concert of extraordinary insight, and the sort of grand-scale musical perspicacity one usually associates with the best of the "big names."
Two such occasions occurred here recently, and the names are worth storing in one's data bank of events not to be missed -- pianist Richard Goode and the Vermeer Quartet.
I can remeber first hearing Goode on the community concert circuit when I was just barely a teen-ager. He had the most off-putting of stage mannerisms, but even then one was aware that he was an awfully good pianist. I heard him at a campus chamber concert when I was in college. I initially wrote about him during the first Spoleto, Charleston, Festival. his playing in the chamber music concerts was the work of an unusually sensitive and vibrant musician, yet one who is not ruled by an unruly or undisciplined communicative sense. Also on that occasion, Goode proved himself to be a superb listener, responding acutely and specifically to the playing around him.
In recital, the qualities that set Goode apart from the normal are magnified and made all the more admirable. He still has his odd mannerisms, but one quickly overlooks them, for his brand of musicmaking is so compelling, so persuasive, one concentrates only on the music. It is rare to encounter any soloist who cares to make the listener truly anxious to find out what is coming next. Goode manages just that -- giving a sense of utter spontaneity to everything.
This makes for particular excitement in something like the big Schumann C major Fantasy, where the sense of the unexpected is so vital.
Too much "spontaneity" could land the artist in the realm of the hectic and haphazard, but Goode avoids that excess. In the Brahms "Handel Variations" one was always aware of the roots of the variations, as well as the astounding variety of textures, colors, and moods with which Brahams suffuses them.
If one had to state what was most arresting about Goode, it is his ability to conjure up an amazing array of colors from the keyboard. The opening Mozart March in C major, K. 408, No. 1 sounded vividly orchestral in its dynamism and its array of tones and rhythms. The hushed moments of the Brahms were as individually memorable as the mighty out- bursts. The Schumann left few moods undiscovered, because of Goode's uncanny ability to ferret out just the right pressure on the key, just the right resilience to a phrase, just the needed hesitation used for accentuation.
Oddly, his Debussy was the least successful on the program, but not without its moments, nonetheless. And while the four Mozart pieces that opened the program were not a satisfying group when played together, the Rondo in A minor, K. 511, revealed the penetrating melancholia that most performers gloss over. Vermeer Glossiness is one of the serverest problems for an artist or an ensemble to avoid. It is virtually the calling card of one or two internationally acclaimed quartet groups today. But along comes the Vermeer to prove that glossiness is an unpleasant word that should have no part of musicmaking. The program itself (like Mr. Goode's, ambitious but well conceived) included the Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C major, k. 546, Janacek's Second quartet (subtitled "Intimate Pages"), and the Op. 132 in A minor by Beethoven.
The Vermeer is unique -- long established but unrecorded and not widely known. soloists usually care neither to taper their talents to an ensemble, nor to listen to what is going on around them. Chamber musicians tend to have certain shortcomings technically that undercut their lofty musical intentions. They Vermeer -- like most of the important groups in the world today -- blends the best of both worlds, and goes most of them one better. In Samuel Ashkenasi the Vermeer has the finest first violinist of any group I have yet heard in a concert hall or on record, technically and, especially, musically. His associates are not far behind -- Pierre Menard, the mellow second; Bernard Zaslav, the noble violist; Marc Johnson, the imposing cellist.
The richness of the Mozart was succeeded by the strength of the Janacek -- a strength built on intellectual comprehension and tenored by a superb comprehension of the singular Janacek idiom.
But the real powerhouse performance was the Beethoven, wherein the Vermeer opened up the lofty ethereal vistas of the Adagio as they are rarely explored and embodied concert.