Piano Concerto No. 19 and No. 27. Richard Goode, pianist; Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. (Nonesuch 79608-2)
Mozart's piano concertos, each one a miniature opera with every type of character and emotion, seem to bring out the best in keyboard artists and orchestras. The recording catalogs already offer such treasurable partnerships as pianist Murray Perahia and the English Chamber Orchestra or Robert Casadesus and the Cleveland Orchestra, for example. But there is always room for another exalted collaboration, and that we have in Richard Goode and the conductor-less Orpheus Chamber Orchestra.
This latest installment in their survey of the concertos finds pianist and ensemble thinking and breathing as one, uncovering the layers of poetry and sensitivity beneath each phrase. Goode is one of those rare musicians who never calls attention to himself, never makes you notice what he is doing or how he is doing it. The music emerges from his fingers as if he were composing it, not merely reproducing it. His finely polished technique is matched by an exceptionally broad palette of tone colors and a keen sense of rhythmic flow.
Above all, Goode's thoughtful consideration of a score invariably yields fresh insights. In the slow movement of Concerto No. 27 (Mozart's last), he finds the shadows lurking behind the serene melodies and explores them eloquently. The light and dark contrasts of the slow movement of Concerto No. 19 likewise bring out the best in Goode, who molds the melodic lines as a great singer would.
The rest of both concertos -- the bubbly, "Marriage of Figaro"-like buoyancy in No. 19, the flashes of drama in No. 27 -- receive equally impressive attention from the pianist, not to mention the ensemble. By now, it's hardly news that the Orpheus players have managed to disprove the notion that an orchestra needs someone waving a baton around. But it's always surprising to hear just how much expressive nuance, let alone how much cohesiveness, these musicians can achieve on their own. They articulate with remarkable clarity and character; the woodwinds are in particularly brilliant form.
Goldberg Variations. Jacques Loussier Trio. (Telarc CD-83479)
Everything we know about Bach tells us that he would have loved jazz, would have been fascinated by the technical process of it, the expressive freedom and power of it. Surely he would have also enjoyed hearing his music in the hands of jazz pianist Jacques Loussier.
There's a lot more involved with Loussier than merely taking a melodic idea and running wild with it. When he jazzes up Bach, which he has done for more than four decades, he considers the whole work at hand, respects its original structure and intentions. He turns it into something at once new and old, adding layers of improvised fingerwork to the original score.
As he demonstrated in the late '60s, when he successfully tackled the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, Loussier is undaunted by a large-scale work. Here he puts a fresh, sophisticated, joyous spin on the "Goldberg Variations," the roughly hour-long harpsichord classic that contains some of Bach's most ingenious and technically challenging ideas. A beguiling, 32-bar tune (the same length of a standard pop song, as Alyn Shipton points out in his liner notes), is treated to 30 separate variations, then reprised. The parallels to jazz idioms are obvious.
Purists might complain that the pianist doesn't honor all the repeats in the score, but, then, purists will have a lot more to complain about than that. The rest of us can simply revel in the brilliance of this interpretation.
Whether bursting with bravura, as in Variation 6, creating dark mini-ballads, as in Variations 3 and 25, or turning Variation 9 into a breathless bit of Latin swing and Variation 20 into a jazzy minute waltz, Loussier creates a consistently engaging experience. He is aided throughout by the ever-imaginative drum work of Andre Arpino and the tightly meshed work of bassist Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac, who both get some effective solo riffs along the way.