By Lawrence Budmen

From little acorns, mighty oaks grow. That is as true in music as in nature. Young talent takes time to mature. Some five years ago the Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear made his South Florida debut playing Rachmaninoff's "Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini" on tour with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra under Jukka Pekka Saraste. His performance was technically brilliant. He seemed a born virtuoso. Yet something was lacking. He failed to permeate the irony and dark subtext that lies beneath the music's glittering surface. (Around the same time, that dazzling keyboard artist Nelson Freire gave a performance with the Florida Philharmonic under Jean Claude Casadesus that fused the bravura and dramatic elements of Rachmaninoff's work to perfection.) On July 29 at Coral Gables Congregational Church, Goodyear returned to present a wide ranging recital. He remains a paradoxical musician. While he revealed some provocative interpretive ideas, too much of his playing strived for superficial effect. 

Goodyear's most impressive offering was Beethoven's "Sonata No.31 in A-flat Major," Opus 110. In his late sonata, Beethoven summarizes the monumental, experimental elements of his creative genius in a tightly conceived score. There is not a note too many in this piece. Goodyear brought expressive line to the opening Moderato cantabile, molto expressivo. He clearly understood the grand scale of Beethoven's musical conception. The pianist brought vigor and character to the Molto allegro. He conquered the full tonal and dynamic range of the Adagio, ma non troppo. Goodyear played this slow movement with a sense of the somber gravity that lies beneath the notes. He cleanly delineated the contrapuntal lines of the Fuga: Allegro. The score's conclusion had impact and power. While his performance lacked the magisterial sublimity of Konstantin Lifschitz or the autumnal nobility of Alfred Brendel, Goodyear brought tremendous power and musicality to Beethoven's penultimate keyboard score. A thoughtfully conceived performance!

Four excerpts from Robert Schumann's "Fantasiestucke," Opus 12 were played with considerable imagination and rhythmic lift. Goodyear's performance lacked the lyricism and singing cantabile line that are the music's essence. Still he captured the schizophrenic, unpredictable Romantism that is quintessentially Schumann. 

In Johann Sebastian Bach's "French Suite No.5 in G Major," BWV 816, Goodyear's playing was merely loud and percussive. Based on Court dances (the Allemande, Courante, Sarabande, Gavotte, Bourree, Loure, and Gigue), Bach's keyboard suites need rhythmic drive and vigor from the performing artist. This music should dance off the keyboard. Goodyear's music making failed to sparkle. He lacked the wonderfully personal verve and joy that Piotr Anderszewski and Richard Goode bring to this music. This performance was far too sober and lacked tonal coloration and variety.

Goodyear seemed to confuse Johannes Brahms's "Scherzo in E-flat Minor," Opus 4 with Liszt in his demonic, Mephisto mood. Hard edged pianism, sudden long pauses, and loud climaxes were the order of the day. Where was the playfulness of this early Brahms work? (Scherzo indicates humor.) The more lyrical sections lacked a songful, vocal quality. (Much of Brahms's piano music is keyboard lieder.) While many in the audience found Goodyear's version exciting, the music's lightness and charm were not to be heard.

While nicely played, Ravel's La vallee des cloches from "Miroirs" lacked the dreamy magic that is the sine qua non of impressionism. Goodyear seemed to only touch the music's surface. He played with much more freedom and tonal allure in his own composition "August" - a pleasant, if unmemorable essay in New Age music (in the manner of Yanni). In the famous Schulz/Elver transcription of that Johann Strauss, Jr. evergreen "On the Beautiful Blue Danube," Goodyear played the cascading octaves and pyrotechnical leaps with brilliance and assurance. What his performance lacked was the charm and lilt that are the central focus of the Viennesse waltz - strangely joyless Strauss. As an encore Goodyear offered a vibrant rendition of George Gershwin's "Embraceable You" in a transcription by the octogenarian keyboard virtuoso (and Gershwin specialist par excellence) Earl Wild. Here Goodyear played with a rich tonal palette and a sense of the music's intoxicating glow.

Stewart Goodyear remains a prodigiously gifted young pianist. His Beethoven sonata performance revealed considerable musical potential. He needs to grow as an artist and rely less on bombastic effects and hard driven pianism - the difference between technical facility and musicianship.

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