If there's a pianistic mayor of the Kimmel Center, it would probably be Richard Goode, whose recitals are presented annually by the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society to consistently adoring full houses.
As with Rudolf Serkin before him, Goode's durability emanates from his Olympian objectivity that, on a good day, fuels the cornerstones of piano literature with a keen balance of respect for the letter of the score and emotional warmth not often found in the clinical Bach of Glenn Gould.
Objectivity, however, can also lapse into a kind of detachment, perhaps even distraction, that never took over any one piece in his Thursday recital of Bach and Chopin at the Perelman Theater, but that could be felt at times, and that may be exacerbated by his 73-year-old fingers not always giving him all that he wants.
Senior pianists are often the most fascinating ones out there: Shura Cherkassky and Claude Frank often envisioned grand musical statements that they lunged after fearlessly -- if fallibly. Goode more dutifully keeps focused on meeting the score on its own terms, still with imagination, but a more contained version of it.
He began with preludes and fugues selected from Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, but from the later, more abstract Book II, which feels more modern, if only because the music is more personal, less formally codified. The Partita in E minor that followed shows Bach at his most anguished -- which made great sense when the second half was entirely devoted to Chopin, that master of pianistic confession.
The rich, baritonal effects Goode created with his left hand counteracted some cloudy sonorities in the right hand during the Well-Tempered Clavier, which also felt occasionally cramped on the modern keyboard (as opposed to an 18th-century harpsichord). At times, Goode seemed most animated when playing dense passages of counterpoint. In less dense passages where Bach goes on a bit, Goode veered close to autopilot.
The partita, though, is exactly the kind of Bach one hopes to hear from Goode, with the music's narrative moved subtly forward by chords articulated in an endless variety of ways. To my ears, the recital peaked there.
Ten Chopin selections were well played, and were models of emotional moderation, whether in the more playful mazurkas or the haunting Nocturne Op. 62 No. 2, which has always felt to me like a journey toward death. The Polonaise-Fantasie Op. 61 showed Goode at his most arresting, the opening flourish unfolding with a meticulously timed deliberation reminiscent of Vladimir Horowitz, and then revealing what lies beyond the surface effects. He was right not to play an encore. His program as it stood was generous enough as it was.