Gould Piano Trio [l-r Lucy Gould (violin), Benjamin Frith (piano), Alice Neary (cello)]
Wigmore Hall, Tuesday 31st January, 2017
Schubert Notturno in E flat, D897 (c1826); Piano Trio No. 1 in B flat, D899 (c1826-7); Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat, D929 (1827)
Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Written by Richard Whitehouse
That the Gould Piano Trio shared its 25th anniversary with Schubert’s 220th birthday made it all but inevitable that these musicians marked the event with a recital of his music. The exact order of the piano trios may be debatable, but what is never in doubt is their stature on a level with those other chamber works – the final String Quartet and the String Quintet – as among the crowning achievements of the composer’s last years. Equally evident were those subtle but pronounced contrasts in form and expression between works written just months apart.
If the B flat Trio is indeed the earlier of the two, this is reflected in its looking back – albeit obliquely – to the more relaxed manner of Schubert’s music up to 1820. Not that there is any lack of gravitas in this music – witness the stealthy momentum accrued in the initial Allegro’s eventful development, impressively maintained here; in contrast to those tenser emotions of the E Flat Trio’s Allegro with its more angular themes and combative development, whose intensifying reprise then agitated coda might have been realized here with greater impetus.
Arguably the highlights in both these performances were the Andante slow movements. In that of the B flat, the Gould searched out the music’s bittersweet eloquence (here, surely, the way in which this work’s ostensible backward glances should be understood) as also its more tensile evolution. While the ensemble never lost focus during the slow movement of the E flat Trio, where an unassuming Swedish song is transformed over the course of one of Schubert’s journeys into uncertainty, there could have been a more graphic sense of the ominous towards its outcome.
It is in the two scherzos where Schubert’s antecedents are most evident. The Classical poise and lucidity in that of the B flat Trio is audibly that of Mozart, overtly so in that of its suave trio, though in this instance the Gould was more successful in its teasing out the equivocal asides of the E flat Trio’s third movement – its ‘scherzando’ marking, with all the edginess that implies, yielding a Beethovenian intent that was amply brought out here. In such music, moreover, is Schubert heard at his most provocative and hence at his most contemporary.
The brace of finales brought these contrasted pieces, and their (for the most part) contrasted interpretations, to their head. The outwardly clear-cut rondo of the B flat Trio unfolded with its deft eliding into unexpected keys drawn into a powerful sense of resolve. If ensemble here was notably more secure than in the finale of the E flat Trio, rendering what is formally the most intricate and expressively the most inclusive among all these movements would be a tall order for any group, and there was little doubting the Gould’s insight over its diverse course.
Including the teenage composer’s Sonatensatz as an encore would likely have been gratuitous in context, though it made sense to open the evening with the Notturno written alongside the two mature trios and was most likely a rejected slow movement for the B flat. With its soulful melodic content and energetic central section, it could be a forerunner of the slow movement for the String Quintet – a reminder that nothing went to waste during Schubert’s feverish final months, with that striving quality once again to the fore in what was another fine performance.
For more information on the Gould Piano Trio visit their website