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The Life of the Partita

Artist in Resonance

It was a smooth transition, from the substantial wisdom of John Adams’ Harmonielehre, which ended the Minimalist celebration, to the no less imposing substance of the Bach program that ensued. Disney Hall surely needed the two days to air the place out, but you could detect some overlapping echoes. Better yet, the crowd was, once again, near-capacity and, from what I could tell, loving.

All-Bach keyboard programs, live or on disc, tend to favor the Goldberg Variations, with British harpsichordist Richard Egarr’s superb new Harmonia Mundi recording most recently in view. The Partitas, of which Richard Goode played three, contain both sterner and lighter stuff: opening movements that wander rhapsodically and propound powerful, edgy counterpoints that suggest restlessness and the urge to explore far horizons — sounds far beyond your textbook Bach, in other words. Later movements adhere to regular dance patterns most of the time, but also sometimes go afield; an occasional Allemande will turn downright pensive. Of the six works to which Bach attached the term “Partita” (as opposed to “French” or “English Suite”), two — in C minor and E minor — leap far beyond what we expect to hear in everyday Baroque music; they are big, passionate, surprising works, which, properly (i.e., broadly, expansively) performed, run at least half an hour each. That’s the way they came across on Goode’s program — plus a third, in G major, of sunnier outlook — on a full-size piano in a full-size hall to a full-size audience last week.

The emotion this splendid musician revealed in this music rendered moot the usual question of piano versus harpsichord. Since his background includes studies with Rudolf Serkin and Clara Haskil, identification with the high-brain-power musical crowd at the Marlboro Festival, and a much-acclaimed CD box of the Beethoven “32,” the solidity and the eloquence (and, yes, Goode-ness) of Goode’s performance the other night came as little surprise but high pleasure nonetheless.

What works these are! At home I listen often to the wrenching sequence of C-minor harmonies that begins the second of these Partitas. From Trevor Pinnock’s harpsichord I hear a sense of structure, of a piling up from dissonance to unnerving dissonance made the more grating in the sound of the instrument. From Glenn Gould’s piano I hear an awed reconstruction of Bach’s own thought process, the sense of improv re-created anew. From — don’t laugh — the old set of Bach’s Greatest Hits by the original Swingle Singers, I revel in lead singer Christiane Legrand turning the long fugue subject into pure melodic ecstasy. I listened to Richard Goode’s performance the other night with all of these in my memory, and I heard echoes of them all — plus the workings of Goode’s own substantial contemporary intelligence, which drew upon them and from itself the power to turn Bach’s own imaginative patterns into music forthright and moving. That kind of music-making overrides, it seems to me, questions of authenticity and historicity; it was wonderful to hear.

Puttin’ On Airs

Several times this season, at various Southern California venues including Zipper Hall, there have been concerts bearing the grandiose name Camerata Pacifica. Artistic director Adrian Spence shares that grandiosity, greeting audiences at a flowery length that might make such other local greeters as UCLA’s David Sefton seem virtually mute by contrast. “Camerata Pacifica Artists,” so-called in the expensive-looking program — in which the advertising, by the way, is all from Santa Barbara — is actually a sampling of familiar Los Angeles freelancers. The crowd at Zipper last Saturday was fair-sized, about half capacity I’d say; I didn’t recognize more than two or three of the familiar chamber-music crowd. The ones I did recognize told me that they had gotten their tickets free through Goldstar, an online booking service that helps failing concert and theatrical promoters fill houses.

Mr. Spence, who sports a leprechaun’s brogue and plays the flute, the leprechaun’s instrument of seduction, speaks of “emotional programming,” but his program — this year and in next year’s brochure — is full of nice, safe novelties. William Bolcom’s 1976 Piano Quartet was this evening’s highlight, with the Philharmonic’s excellent pianist Joanne Pearce Martin but with string players who didn’t seem very much at home. It’s a wonderful piece, building beautifully from a rather troubled, quiet beginning through a gorgeous outburst of the juicy ragtime-pastiche style of Bolcom’s “Ghost” pieces to a sensational rowdy-dowdy finale; it deserves a rerun with the emotional lights turned higher.

With a top ticket of $40 — if buyers be found — for concerts by locally known personnel, the Camerata Pacifica programs as listed seem rather skimpy. At Jacaranda we never get out before 10:30; Saturday I was home by 9:45. Given the abundance of freelance talent in these parts — and the eagerness you overhear when people talk about the need for more chamber music, more new music or even the steady presence of a group dedicated to keeping the Beethoven quartets alive and well — it’s depressing when a potentially promising project becomes overshadowed with the suspicion of misplaced ego and the wrong leadership wasting time, talent and money. I refer here to my suspicions concerning Adrian Spence (with whom I’ve lunched) and his Camerata Pacifica. I refer also to a certain Peyman Farzinpour, whose “Erato Philharmonia” produced two or three of the most misconceived and, therefore, disastrous musical events on the scene last season, and whose appointment now as some kind of musical director is the latest in this season’s list of egregious errors by our County Art Museum, where the propensity for enacting managerial atrocities seems without bounds.

At Zipper, too — although I keep forgetting to mention it — a charming and communicative pianist named Amy Dissanayake came on from Chicago on March 7 to fill in the wild-card position in this year’s Piano Spheres roster. With her came Chicago music: six Piano Etudes by Augusta Read Thomas attached to descriptive titles — “Cathedral Waterfall,” “Rain at Funeral,” etc. Seven etudes by David Rakowski were more specific: “Repeated-note,” “Etude on Melody and Thick Chords.” I don’t usually expect to get much from the terseness of the piano etude (unless the composer be Ligeti), but these turned out as a pair of valuable, attractive garlands, very nicely put forth. David Rakowski teaches at Brandeis; when last heard from he had run his string of etudes to 70.


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