United Kingdom Mozart, R. Clarke, Ravel: Gould Piano Trio (Lucy Gould [violin], Richard Lester [cello], Benjamin Frith [piano]). Live-streamed from Wigmore Hall, London, 29.10.2020. (CC)
Mozart – Piano Trio in G, K 564 (1788)
Rebecca Clarke – Piano Trio (1921)
Ravel – Piano Trio (1914)
The opening Mozart’s Piano Trio in G of 1788 offered the most charming entry into this particular musical programme; Mozart’s music itself darkens significantly, though, during the course of the first movement, a trajectory expertly tracked by the Gould Piano Trio. Dating from October 1788, this is Mozart’s last Piano Trio and is a miracle of concision. Lucy Gould’s agility was a cause of particular delight here, as was, in the second movement, the eloquence of Benjamin Frith’s statement of the minuet-like theme, while the cello variation was suavity itself from Richard Lester. The joy of the finale was undeniable, the tempo the perfect Allegretto (as prescribed by Mozart), the siciliano rhythms gentle oscillating.
It is a big leap to the music of Rebecca Clarke (1886-1979), a pupil of Stanford (and viola with Lionel Tertis) at the Royal College of Music. Her music, though, is enjoying a wonderful, fully deserved renaissance. To say she had an uphill struggle as a female composer is an understatement: in 1919 she came second in a composition competition to Ernest Bloch, no less, but it hardly helped her music to proliferate. From its viscerally gritty opening, this Piano Trio speaks of intense power, as did the Gould Piano Trio’s performance. Clarke’s harmonic language is tellingly individual, moving easily from ports of pastoral rest to dissonant scrunches. No doubting the ‘appassionato’ aspect of Clarke’s indication (Moderato ma appassionato) in this performance; nor the splendid loneliness of the violin’s plaintive line that opens the Andante molto semplice. How radiant the harmonies are in this movement; and how surprising the shift to a quasi-Scriabinesque mystic space. No doubting the Gould Trio’s resonance with this music: this was a transportative performance into some remarkably heady regions – so much so it seemed to prepare for the Ravel. English music forms the core of the Gould Piano Trio’s discography, so perhaps the unforgettable nature of this performance is not so surprising.
Incidentally, if you want to try a recording of Rebecca Clarke’s piece in a stimulating coupling, try the Lincoln Trio’s performance on the Çedille label, where Clarke’s Trio rubs shoulders with Armenian composer Arno Babadjanian’s brilliant Piano Trio and Frank Martin’s Trio on Popular Irish Melodies: a properly internationalist outing, the choice of composers based on the performers’ homelands: nice to see David Barker agrees with me on this disc’s worth (review click here).
The Ravel Piano Trio is a gleaming example of the genre. Fascinating to hear how the Gould Piano Trio shifted their mode of delivery for the fragranced A minor of the opening Modéré. The poignant nature of the melodic lines delivered, octaves apart, by violin and cello was perfectly judged by Lucy Gould and Richard Lester, with Benjamin Frith providing exquisite traceries.
The slow movement of Ravel’s Trio is entitled ‘Pantoum’ by the composer: a Malaysian verse form in which the second and fourth lines of a stanza become the first and third of the next. Applying this to musical structure in a scherzo and trio manner resulted in music that danced infectiously in this performance, with tuning from the strings maintained perfectly whatever the ongoing challenge. Perhaps just a hint more sensuality would have sealed the deal.
The third movement is a ‘Passacaille’ (passacaglia), the theme intoned deep in the piano, ‘Très large’, a slowed down version of the theme of ‘Pantoum’. The lowest register of Lucy Gould’s violin sounded smoky, full of secrets; Frith’s extended solo passage in response was beautifully weighted, the perfect preparation itself for the intensity of Richard Lester’s cello. As the music descends into silence, so it creates space for the airy textures of the ‘Final’, marked ‘Animé’ and particularly tricky for the violinist in its use of arpeggios comprising harmonics – a risky step on Ravel’s part but one that, when played, as here, well, is unforgettable. This was a fine performance: the radiance of some of Ravel’s writing could perhaps have been a little more luminescent, certainly, but no doubting there was much to enjoy.
No encore, sadly. Introduced with her characteristic blend of unbounded enthusiasm and profound expertise by Zoë Martlew (the same Zoë Martlew, of ‘Zoë Unleashed …. Unhinged, uncensored, underwired!’ in 2004 – how could I ever forget?) – this was a fascinating concert, most notable for the Rebecca Clarke.