Though connoisseurs long ago discovered him, Richard Goode remains a decidedly unfamous pianist.
Yet, as he proved again Monday night, the New York-born musician, known among his cult for a deep and wide repertory and for having recorded all 32 of Beethoven's piano sonatas, deserves a place among the elite.
Making his local recital debut under auspices of the Orange County Philharmonic Society, the 48-year-old pianist produced a total performance in the Irvine Barclay Theatre that was a joy in the ear, a nourishment for the mind and an uplift for the spirit.
His generous agenda, ostensibly one-sided--that side being the first Viennese school--became, in the event, wide-ranging in style.
One of Mozart's great, late sonatas began it uncompromisingly, with apparently something for everyone: polished surfaces, immaculate technical accomplishment, lavish detailing and soulful probing.
Beethoven's breakthrough Sonata in D, Opus 10, No. 3, emerged as the centerpiece, its depths examined, its enigmas outlined, its mysteries delivered.
A surprising group of Debussy preludes--to this date, no hype machine has named Goode a Debussy specialist, though such a claim is certainly justified--showed him to be capable of mezzo-tints, myriad pianistic touches, an effortless legato and more.
Then, instead of letting up on intensity, as many tend to do at this point of program conclusion, Goode climbed another musical mountain--taking the listener's breath away in the process--in Schubert's C-minor Sonata, D. 958, which he played with heat, serenity and an edgeless piano sound (he was using the Barclay-resident Hamburg Steinway belonging to the Laguna Chamber Music Society).
Throughout, the pianist showed his seriousness, his complementary abilities to be spontaneous and playful, his love of the music before him and a willingness to share.
For this listener, it was a high point of the musical year.
Not unpredictably, the most memorable moments involved the deepest musical challenges: the great slow movements in Mozart's F-major (K. 533), Beethoven's Opus 10, No. 3, and Schubert's C-minor sonatas.
In each, Goode probed the work's content, examined its facets, looked beneath its surfaces. To a professional listener, these are familiar movements, yet in each, Goode revealed unfamiliar beauties.
Notwithstanding a boorish audience--which not only clapped between movements, but started to leave the hall before Goode's single encore--the pianist ignored its rudenesses and offered as a program-capper a brace of Schubert's Landler from Opus 171.
Like everything else on this special night, they were treated exquisitely but without self-consciousness. Mastery is its own reward.