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Rachmaninov: Piano Concertos / Stewart Goodyear

Release Date: 04/14/2015
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30047
Composer:  Sergei Rachmaninov Performer:  Stewart Goodyear Conductor:  Heiko Mathias Förster Orchestra/Ensemble:  Czech National Symphony Orchestra Number of Discs: 1
Recorded in: Stereo Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins.

Stewart Goodyear's second release on Steinway & Sons is a followup to his acclaimed 2014 release of the Tchaikovsky and Grieg Piano Concertos. The Canadian pianist is a notable concert soloist and has performed with the New York Philharmonic, Los Angeles Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, and the Philadelphia Orchestra, among many others. In 2013, he gave a series of marathon performances in the U.S. of all the Beethoven piano sonatas, performing the complete cycle in a single, eleven-hour performance at each venue.

Recorded October 15-18, 2014 at CNSO Studio No. 1, Prague
Producer: Keith Horner
Engineer: Jan Kotzmann
Post Production: Robert
Read more DiVito, Society of Sound

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Oberlander Group
Photography: Anita Zvonar
Piano Technician: Cenda Kotzmann
Piano: Steinway Model C (Hamburg)

"Exultantly phrased, expertly articulated and expansively engineered, these deeply felt, supremely natural readings mark out Canadian Stewart Goodyear as a first-rate Rachmaninovian.”

-– BBC Music Magazine

Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 owes its existence to a renowned neurologist by the name of Dr. Nikolai Dahl. At the time, the young composer was despondent over the failure of his first symphony in 1897. But under the good doctor’s guidance, he regained his confidence and creative urge – and the result was the most famous of his four piano concertos. To many people’s ears, the piece has almost become too well known since its premiere in 1901. But this fact certainly didn’t deter Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear on this Steinway recording featuring both the second and third concertos performed with the Czech National Symphony, with Heiko Mathias Förster conducting.

Since concluding his studies at the Curtis Institute and the Juilliard School, this Toronto-born artist has earned an international reputation, and this CD provides ample proof. From the opening measures, his approach to the familiar repertoire is bold but elegant, demonstrating a flawless technique that never succumbs to empty virtuosity. Absent too, is any trace of overt sentimentality, something that is all too easy to do with Rachmaninov. The poignant and wistful Adagio and buoyant finale also prove to be a perfect pairing of artist and orchestra, with the CNS performing with a confident assurance under Förster’s baton.

In many ways, the Concerto No.3 from 1909 is an extension of the second, but even more so – larger in scope and perhaps even more technically demanding. Nevertheless, Goodyear and the CNS rise to the occasion with a polished performance certainly equalling – but not necessarily surpassing – established recordings by Argerich and Ashkenazy. Again, soloist and orchestra produce a warmly romantic sound, particularly in the second movement Intermezzo where the delicate interplay between strings and soloist is particularly admirable.

These are fine performances all around – kudos to Goodyear, Förster and the musicians from Prague for tackling this familiar music and for doing it justice in a very compelling way.

-- Richard Haskell, The Whole Note

Like his first recording for Steinway & Sons of popular piano concertos by Tchaikovsky and Grieg, Stewart Goodyear’s second release for the label covers well-trodden ground in the Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor and the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor of Sergey Rachmaninov. Steinway & Sons’ mission is to showcase Steinway pianos in performances by rising pianists from its Concert & Artist program, though judging by the familiarity of these warhorses, it seems to be locked into the standard post-Romantic repertoire, which hasn’t changed much over the past century. Even so, Goodyear is an exceptional artist, and his performances with Heiko Mathias Förster and the Czech National Symphony are worth hearing for their clarity and the balance of technical skill and expressive subtlety. Perhaps the most significant point to make about this disc is Goodyear’s restoration of the full score of the Third Concerto, which was cut by Rachmaninov in an attempt to popularize it. Beyond that, there are no surprises, just reliable performances that offer equal portions of virtuosity and emotion. Rendered with taste and intelligence by Goodyear.

-- Blair Sanderson, All Music Guide

Whether one is a pianist or a poet, practitioner or pretender, it is easier to concur with the allegations that the significance of Classical Music in the still-new century is undermined by a lack of significant artists than to prove them wrong. Perhaps this also seemed true of his own time to Sergei Rachmaninov, whose career as a pianist and composer spanned an era of unprecedented cultural and social transition and upheaval. Born in 1873 into the class of gentry that would be all but annihilated by the political turmoil that gripped Russia during the final decades of the Romanov dynasty, Rachmaninov was himself the inheritor of an imperiled artistic lineage. In an environment in which musical conversation was increasingly dominated by atonality, his mother tongue was unabashed Romanticism, an idiom to which he clung not as a safety net but as a source of inspiration and direct connection with traditions extending back to Haydn and Mozart. Like Brahms, Rachmaninov was inspired rather than confined by the legacies of his musical predecessors, and the importance of his Piano Concerti to the grand tradition of the Romantic concerto is tremendous. With acclaimed recordings of music by Beethoven, Grieg, and Tchaikovsky already to his credit, Canadian-born pianist Stewart Goodyear also communicates in the language of Romanticism with fluency that Rachmaninov could have appreciated. It is hardly remarkable that a gifted young pianist should play Rachmaninov’s concerti, but the performances of the Second and Third Concerti recorded by Mr. Goodyear for Steinway and Sons are exceptional for an artist of any age. Many pianists, especially younger ones, find in Rachmaninov’s concerti vehicles for the sort of empty virtuosic posturing that inspires the suggestions of Classical Music’s eroding significance. At its core, this disc preserves conversations between two artists, composer and pianist, not about the ways in which musical tastes evolve but about the fact that the interactions among great music and great musicians are virtually unchanged since man first committed music notes to paper.

This disc is the culmination of a long period of intensive study in which Mr. Goodyear clearly approached these concerti both with the traditions of pianists like Vladimir Horowitz and Van Cliburn in mind and from a completely fresh, individual perspective. In part, Mr. Goodyear’s playing in general combines Horowitz’s sensitivity and noble phrasing with Cliburn’s explosive power, but the performances on this disc confirm that he is very much his own artist. Nothing in his interpretations of these concerti is borrowed from great performances or recordings of past generations, but there is much that pianists of the future could learn from Mr. Goodyear’s playing as recorded here. Playing a Hamburg Steinway Model C and recorded with near-ideal clarity and balance by producer Keith Horner and engineer Jan Kotzmann, this gifted young artist makes the music of Rachmaninov his own without ever making the performances more about himself than about the composer.

Written between autumn 1900 and April 1901 and premièred in complete form with the composer at the keyboard in November 1901, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C minor (Opus 18) is among Rachmaninov’s most familiar works though the composer himself deemed it a difficult, troubled piece. In his Piano Concerti, Rachmaninov adhered at least in most basic construction to the sonata form that had been the skeletal foundation for concerti since the pioneering efforts of Haydn and Mozart, but Mr. Goodyear’s imaginative yet astonishingly precise playing illuminates the ways in which Rachmaninov manipulated structures, harmonic progressions, and thematic development in distinct demonstrations of imagination. Under the direction of conductor Heiko Mathias Förster, the musicians of the Czech National Symphony Orchestra play capably, the rich string timbre matched by sonorous wind playing with little of the tartness familiar from many vintage recordings by Eastern European ensembles. In the opening Moderato movement, Mr. Goodyear and the Symphony musicians seem to actually listen to one another, their shaping of key phrases conspicuously symmetrical. The Adagio sostenuto second movement is very eloquently done, both pianist and conductor limning the significance of the Più animato transition from C minor to E major and the critical recapitulation of the movement’s principal theme. Mr. Goodyear emphasizes the cumulative impact of the music rather than focusing on particular details and thereby risking distortion of the composer’s meticulously-conceived musical architecture. Intelligent negotiation of the modulations from E major to the root C minor and then to the terminal C major is integral to Mr. Goodyear’s playing of the Allegro scherzando final movement. He eschews none of the music’s latent Indian-summer Romanticism, but the abiding sensibility is a very modern one. Though lacking nothing in energy or primal brawn, Mr. Goodyear’s playing of the Allegro scherzando is characterized by an avoidance of cheap posturing. Textures are kept lean even when the music it at its most robust, revealing Rachmaninov’s very logical solutions to musical problems—solutions that in many performances are hidden beneath waves of egotistical pounding of the keys.

Popularized beyond the ranks of Classical Music enthusiasts by the 1996 feature film Shine, which used it prominently in depicting Australian pianist David Helfgott's struggles, the Piano Concerto No. 3 in D minor (Opus 30) was completed in 1909. Rachmaninov dedicated the Concerto to the celebrated pianist Josef Hofmann, who never attained a level of comfort with the piece that would have enabled him to perform it publicly. The Concerto was premièred in New York with the composer at the piano and Walter Damrosch on the podium and was later conducted, much to Rachmaninov's satisfaction, by Gustav Mahler. The monumental scale of the music that likely contributed to Mahler’s appreciation and mastery of it seems also to inspire Mr. Goodyear, who plays the epic score with the eagerness of a youngster playing it for the first time and the confidence of a veteran who has played it a hundred times before. The grand diatonic subject of the opening Allegro ma non tanto movement is sculpted with tremendous surety of rhythm, and Maestro Förster and the orchestra exchange ideas with Mr. Goodyear with rousing musicality. The pianist employs Rachmaninov’s first, chordal ossia cadenza and delivers it with perfectly-timed aplomb. The central Intermezzo: Adagio movement, bridging a modulation from F-sharp minor to D-flat major, is one of Rachmaninov’s most radiantly beautiful creations, and Mr. Goodyear plays it not as a languorous, sentimental tour de force but as a profoundly personal, poignant exploration of musical light and shadows. Maestro Förster maintains a consistent level of tension in the orchestra, preparing climaxes that are resolved by Mr. Goodyear’s entrancingly poetic cadences. If the Concerto’s second movement is some of Rachmaninov’s most soulful music, the third movement—Finale: Alla breve—is some of his most exuberantly virtuosic. The pianist’s technique is here at its most dizzying, his playing of the grandiose chords and melodic figurations distinguished by assured navigation of the difficult intervals. As with similar metamorphoses in the preceding movements, the transition from D minor to D major in the Finale receives deft handling from both Mr. Goodyear and Maestro Förster. Duplicating the gesture in the final movement of the Second Concerto, Rachmaninov’s unique four-note musical signature is integrated into the closing of the Third Concerto: this performance discloses its presence without over-accentuating it. Most refreshingly, Mr. Goodyear does not play these Concerti as tired warhorses that require suitably martial pomposity or as stepping stones along a young musicians path to the pianistic Pantheon. Rather, he plays them with the affection of a communicative, open-hearted pianist who has gotten to know these scores through fastidious examination and now considers them friends.

William Shakespeare wrote in Sonnet 116 that ‘Love is not love / Which alters when it alteration finds,’ and this sentiment is especially appropriate to music. Too many musicians pervert the necessity of finding one’s own way of interpreting pieces into an excuse for wrong-headed forays into idiosyncratic execution that push listeners away from composers and their scores rather than being the catalyst for their fusion. Ultimately, great works of art need only to be seen or heard, and these performances by Stewart Goodyear allow the listener to hear Sergei Rachmaninov’s Second and Third Piano Concerti without distractions. He reminds the listener that an accomplished pianist can wrap his heart, mind, and fingers around any score, but only an accomplished artist trusts himself and the music enough to allow composers’ voices to sing through his own.

-- Voix des Arts

Canadian pianist Stewart Goodyear really has an opportunity to shine in these two favorite piano concertos by Sergei Rachmaninov, and he wastes no time in showing his stuff. These radiant performances allow him to display his remarkable finger dexterity in meeting the composer’s demands for sensational arpeggios, long keyboard runs, and the really BIG climaxes in which he shares honors with conductor and orchestra. Rachmaninov, whose own unusually large, strong hands enabled him to create impressive-sounding, gigantic chords, offers the performer no mercy in Piano Concertos Nos. 2 and 3. Nor does Goodyear ask for any. He meets the challenges of two very demanding works head-one. At the same time, the sense of touch is unerring in our impressive young artist who is so sensitively attuned to the living tones and bronze-like sonorities for which this composer was famous.

From the bell-like tolling of the piano at the very opening of Concerto No. 2 in C minor, we sense Goodyear is in control of his material and in accord with the contemplative mood the composer wants to establish. The orchestra picks up the pace thereafter and the music becomes more agitated and unstable, but we never lose sight of this firmly-established mood in the course of a work characterized by a romantic pessimism and a deep reverie tinged with sadness. The piano’s interactions with other instruments, most importantly flute, clarinet, oboe and violas, serves to comment on its deeply pensive thoughts. Pianist and orchestra rouse themselves to meet the demands of successive challenges throughout the work, which ends very fast, ecstatically and triumphantly in a stunning fortissimo climax.

Concerto No. 3 in D minor is even more demanding on the soloist than its predecessor. In fact, it is one of the most formidable works in the entire repertoire. With its loud chords, fiendishly difficult left-hand passages, and ferocious climaxes, it calls for absolute certainty in phrasing, which includes some surprisingly delicate arpeggiation for a work one usually associates with big, bold gestures. The lushly romantic Intermezzo movement moves, breathtakingly and without pause, into the finale, consisting mostly of variations in cut time (alla breve) of music we have previously heard. The work ends (as did Concerto No. 2) in Rachmaninov’s personal signature, a triumphant four-note motto that says “That’s all, folks” in no uncertain terms!

Both concertos give Goodyear a real workout and an opportunity to show us his wares, which include, besides what we observed earlier, a beautiful living tone and sensitivity to changes in rhythm and dynamic shadings. I note in passing that the Toronto native studied with Oxana Yablonskaya at the Juilliard School and Leon Fleisher, Gary Graffman and Claude Frank at the Curtis Institute. He is a credit to all of these fine teachers.

-- Audio Video Club of Atlanta

Call them standard repertoire or, less kindly, chestnuts, if you will, but just as clichés became clichés because they contain a kernel or more of truth, so the great and overplayed piano concertos became great and overplayed because they have something that listeners and performers alike want and to which they gravitate. In the case of Rachmaninoff’’s Piano Concerto No. 2, the most popular of his four, that something is strong, over-the-top emotion, so much of it that it is quite possible to wallow in the big tunes and sumptuous orchestration to the point of becoming entrapped in a sort of sonic treacle. That is how many pianists handle this concerto—but thankfully, Stewart Goodyear is not one of them. Goodyear does not deny Rachmaninoff’s gigantic ebbs and swells, nor does he shy from exploring the obvious emotionalism and film-score-like elements of the concerto. But there is an underlying clarity to Goodyear’s performance—with “clarity” being a word not usually associated with Rachmaninoff—that gives Goodyear’s Steinway & Sons recording a freshness that makes the music seem brighter and far less muddy than it sometimes does. This scarcely means Goodyear makes the thrice-familiar concerto seem new, but it does mean that he plays it with a fluidity that never allows it to bog down and that keeps it moving forward at a solid pace, if scarcely an inappropriately scintillating one. There is a distinction between lyricism and sentimentality, and Goodyear’s performance demonstrates that he knows what it is. In the process, he also shows yet again why this concerto remains so popular: its tunes really are gorgeous and emotionally involving. As for the Concerto No. 3, this is generally considered Rachmaninoff’s best, especially by performers and academics, but it has never quite attained the popularity of No. 2. Rachmaninoff’s Third is a somewhat more-distant concerto, certainly involving but more of a conversation between pianist and orchestra on which the audience eavesdrops—while the Second is one in which the audience is intimately involved. Goodyear’s No. 3 is a fine mixture of pyrotechnics and sensitivity, a reading in which the pianist is more of a partner with the orchestra than is usual in performances of this concerto—in which the soloist is almost always paramount. Goodyear does, however, keep the spotlight firmly on himself in several ways, in part by eschewing the optional performance cuts that Rachmaninoff allowed in this concerto and in part by using the ossia in the first movement—that is, the chordal, more-dramatic of the two cadenzas Rachmaninoff composed. Goodyear is scarcely the first pianist to do this, but he does a particularly good job of turning the cadenza into the climax of the first movement—a justifiable interpretation, if one that gives somewhat short shrift to the lovely coda. Goodyear gets good if not outstanding support from the Czech National Symphony under Heiko Mathias Förster: the orchestra plays quite well, but Förster is more of a workmanlike conductor than a really strong presence and effective partner for a pianist of Goodyear’s caliber. The recording as a whole, though, is a very worthy one.


Canadian piano virtuoso Stewart Goodyear (b1978) seems to favor the colossal in music, such as his having performed all of the 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in a single day. So the two middle Rachmaninov concertos (rec. 15–18 October 2014) satisfy his penchant for the romantic, color opulence and big sound the Russian composer provides. Along with the silken lyricism in the 1901 C Minor Concerto—after the opening Russian bells on F motif—in the first movement, we must admire the lush cello line that conductor Foerster invokes through his Czech ensemble. Goodyear often brings out the somewhat paradoxical nature of the solo in the first movement: lacking a real cadenza, the keyboard display often serves as a luminous accompaniment to the orchestra-driven melodic tissue. Goodyear basks in his broken and arpeggiated chords, the piano’s often parlando acceleration of the tempo, under which the cello choir urges the harmonic pulsation forward.

Horns, flute, and clarinet hold their own against the keyboard in the sweet, nocturnal Adagio sostenuto, with Goodyear’s interjecting an ostinato pattern and six melodic notes between clarinet phrases. The texture of the music proceeds with a studied delicacy, rather refreshed for those of us too long familiar with this concerto. The piano’s later melodic tissue delicately progresses by Goodyear’s work with horn and strings, his strong cadential landings. The silken scalar passages well suggest how much Bach the composer had absorbed into the creation of his melodic tissue. The sudden transition to a more scherzando affect somewhat parallels the shape of the Chopin F Minor Concerto second movement. More Russian bells in the keyboard against the cellos and then solo melt into the segue to the Allegro scherzando finale. Here, Goodyear’s colored, pungent staccatos in the opening cadenza and subsequent dragonfly fingerwork alternately hesitate and then explode to the grand “Hollywood” theme show-stopper. Happily, Goodyear and Foerster avoid most of the clichés of this popular work, which cannot help its own, garlanded esteem. For the 1909 Third Concerto, Goodyear opts for the longer, uncut original version whose first movement cadenza alone often stymies lesser pianists. The dark hues of this concerto once more nourish a rich cello line from the Czech National Symphony. Much of the keyboard writing evolves as a kind of chromatic etude, with the orchestra’s commenting and expanding upon melodic fragments in highly expressive gestures, as when the keyboard and French horn briefly colloquy. The pure stamina aspects of the keyboard writing—wide spans, speedy and dense counterpoints, massive octaves—Goodyear subsumes under an unbroken, progressively arching line. The galloping, martial elements of the Concerto quite lift off into a controlled, Lisztian frenzy. But with the return of the solo instruments after the huge cadenza, Goodyear’s gift for hypnotic lyricism asserts itself most convincingly, even diaphanously.

Some of the gloomy Russian soul enters in the A Major Intermezzo, courtesy of a solo oboe and responding winds, brass and strings. A moment of anguish permeates the piano entry as well, which by jarring chromatics takes us back to the main theme. Goodyear sparkles, runs, and thunders with the theme until he collaborates with clarinet and bassoon for an impish 3/8 waltz sequence, possibly influenced by the Burleske of Richard Strauss. A flash of virtuosic light, and Goodyear thrusts us, with galvanized panache, into the galloping last movement. Acrobatically and often martially syncopated and deftly variegated, the color momentum of Alla breve finale never fails to engage the aural imagination in a grand scheme of color possibilities. Typical of his Lisztian roots, Rachmaninov recycles the secondary theme of the first movement. The skittering figures in Goodyear’s luscious Hamburg Steinway Model C and the pizzicato strings, along with a “heartbeat” tympani, well register with us, courtesy of Recording Engineer Jan Kotzmann. The moody and mercurially momentous Rachmaninov has found a gifted acolyte in Stewart Goodyear: nothing of the faint-hearted in these vigorous performances.

-- Audiophile Audition

"Writing intriguingly in this disc’s accompanying note, Jed Distler tells us of a phantom presence behind Rachmaninov’s performance of his Third Concerto. For him, Horowitz was ‘the only player in the world of this piece’ and he clearly feared comparison with his friend and compatriot. He also tells us that Horowitz looked askance at the Second Concerto, finding in it fewer opportunities for display. And so from legendary keyboard giants to Stewart Goodyear in both concertos. His exceptional vigour and impetus in the opening of the Second is a refreshing alternative to other more extreme views (very slow Lang Lang, very fast Stephen Hough). Rising above attention-seeking gestures, his directness and mastery would surely have won the composer’s approval, even prompting a smile to cross that famously dour countenance."

-- Gramophone Read less