First, the bad news. The part of last night's program here by the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center that promised to be the most exciting did not occur. That invariably beguiling mezzo Frederica von Stade was to sing Schumann's lovely song cycle, "Liederkreis," Op. 39, with Richard Goode at the piano.
Artistic director Charles Wadsworth explained to the Kennedy Center audience: "We found out last Friday that Frederica was sick. She had severe laryngitis and was running a temperature. She went to the doctor and he said that under no circumstances was she to sing in the next few days.
"So we had to decide what to do. Our first concert of this four-day series was coming up on Sunday at Tully Hall in New York. We thought it would be impossible to get a first-rate singer who could sing the 'Liederkreis' four nights in a row. It would be difficult to find even a bad singer."
Now, the good news. On very little notice, Goode agreed to perform Beethoven's demanding Sonata No. 30, Op. 109 -- with its prayerful and sublime final set of variations. Short notice or not, the performance turned out to be the high point of a fine program.
The Thirtieth is, of course, the first of that final trilogy of sonatas, in which the greatest master of that form created a veritable lexicon of the expressive possibilities of the piano sonata as he saw it.
Goode's view of the Thirtieth is quite different from the stricter, more cerebral manners brought to it by two of the most formidable of its most recent interpreters here, Rudolf Serkin and Peter Serkin (in those cases, the differences between father and son were fascinating as well).
Goode's version was considerably gentler and more lyric, especially than Rudolf Serkin's. Hard edges were played down. Goode favored a soft, sweeter tone, and he pedaled more heavily. The first movement, especially, sounded almost nostalgic. Even in the tempestuous second movement, the sound was softer, though the articulation was superb. And in the theme and variations, the legato lyricism of the first variation was particularly beautiful, and the second one had an alluring delicacy. The spiritual repose that is the ultimate message of the movement was memorably sustained.
Other performances of the evening:
*Brahms' wonderfully expansive, autumnal String Quintet, Op. 111, the one for two violas. The almost orchestral scale of the opening movement was powerfully performed, as was the plaintive slow movement. The latter two seemed a little listless, perhaps a result of the intense heat in the Concert Hall. James Buswell and Ani Kavafian were the violinists, Walter Trampler and Marcus Thompson the violists and Leslie Parnas the cellist.
*Kodaly's dramatic, folk-rooted Serenade for Two Violins and Viola, with Kavafian, Buswell and Trampler.
*And a Bach C-major Trio Sonata for two violins and continuo, which opens with a grave slow movement that is the giant at his most eloquent.