The Gould Piano Trio in Czech Chamber Music

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Dvořák, Janáček: Gould Piano Trio, Wigmore Hall, London. 3.4.2012 (RB)

Dvořák: Piano Trio in G minor Op 26 (1876)
Janáček: String Quartet No. 1 ‘Kreutzer Sonata’ (1923) arr. Korber for piano trio
Dvořák: Piano Trio in E minor Op 90 (1890-91)

The Gould Piano Trio is currently recording Dvořák’s complete piano trios so it was interesting to hear at first hand their interpretations of two of his four piano trios, together with the fascinating transcription by Till Alexander Korber of Janáček’s First String Quartet.

The G minor trio was written immediately after the death of Dvořák’s two-day-old daughter, Josefa, and there is a pervasive darkness of mood although it still benefits from Dvořák’s natural gift for melody. The Goulds allowed the expressive melodies to unfold naturally and organically in the opening ‘allegro moderato’ and there was a nice sense of balance and space between the three players and variety of musical textures. Occasionally, I would have liked greater fullness and richness of tone from Alice Neary’s cello although the cello solo which opened the second movement largo was highly expressive and exquisitely shaped. The Beethovenian scherzo was played with urgency and vibrancy while there was superb filigree playing from Benjamin Frith’s piano in the trio section. The finale was tightly organised and there was excellent interplay between all three players with the Goulds relishing the harmonic and textural richness of the music.

Janáček’s two string quartets are among the most original works in the whole of the classical repertoire, and this arrangement for piano trio of the first quartet was commissioned by the Merlin Ensemble Vienna and Beethovenfest Bonn, and given its world première in 2004. I was not completely convinced by this transcription although it is useful to introduce Janáček’s fascinating work to the wider musical public through another medium. The Goulds captured the nervous restlessness of the opening movement although there was a little too much of a polished drawing room feeling about this performance, and I was not always convinced they captured the edginess and rawness of the music. The Goulds brought out well the ironic and playful elements of the second movement polka, while the exchanges in the third movement were razor sharp and interjections highly dramatic and effective. Lucy Gould brought out wonderfully the soaring violin line of the finale and there was superb rapport and coordination in managing the tempo and textural fluctuations.

The concert concluded with Dvořák’s ever-popular ‘Dumky’ trio which was originally conceived as an experimental work consisting of six separate Dumka. The opening was passionate and purposeful although I would have preferred a little more breadth in the treatment of this material. The melodies in the violin and cello were soulful and heartfelt while the folk elements were full of verve in the fast sections. There was a wonderful warmth from the cellist in the opening of the second movement and exquisite lyricism and intimacy from the pianist. The Goulds brought out superbly the harmonic and textural richness of the third movement while the violinist and pianist nailed perfectly the rhythmic subtlety in the fourth movement. The light passage work from the pianist in the fifth movement was superbly executed although I did not think the balance was always completely right in the canon. There was passionate and charged playing from all three players in the finale, bringing the concert to a triumphant conclusion. Overall, I thought this was an excellent performance of one of the great works of the chamber music repertoire, although on occasion I would like the Goulds to be a little less reined in and constrained in their handling of the folk elements in the music.

I was pleased to see the Goulds receiving highly enthusiastic applause from the audience who were rewarded with a performance of Suk’s ‘Elegy’ – a highly suitable night cap to this all Czech programme.

Robert Beattie