Gould Piano Trio play Schubert at the Wigmore Hall


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

Vanessa Wagner – Expanding the piano


We’ve already spoken to Murcof about his collaboration with pianist Vanessa Wagner – and now it’s time for her side of the story. She describes how she found classical music and how her meeting with Murcof opened up all sorts of electronic possibilities. Here they are on their work together:

Vanessa, can you remember your first encounter with classical music?

My parents were not listening to a lot of classical music. They were rather into jazz and the French chanson. Then one day, the piano of my great-grandmother came home, and I started to play. My childhood idol was a wonderful Romanian pianist named Clara Haskil, far away from the glamour girls are usually dreaming of! She is still an artist that I love.

Who are the composers you have grown to particularly admire?

I grew up with the music of Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart, Rachmaninov, Brahms and Janáček, who are still my favourites, Schubert especially. His melancholy, and the time stretched in his music touches me enormously. Die Schöne Müllerin and Winterreise are pieces that never leave me.

What was it that appealed to you about working with Murcof?

I was the one to initiate this encounter. I have listened to his music for a long time. I met him at the workshop of the Infiné label, and we made an improvised test. Then I had the chance to have a residency in a room of the Arsenal of Metz. They gave me carte blanche to develop new projects, I invited Murcof to play with me, and Statea was born.

How did you make sure you got a good balance between the piano and the electronics?

I always asked Murcof to pay attention to the acoustic piano sound. The piano is the starting point of this project, and it was important that the electronic effects do not swallow its sound even if it is sometimes distorted. Similarly, it also seemed very important to stay true to the scores of composers that I interpret. That’s why the album is called Statea, which means balance in ancient Italian.

Had you listened to much electronic music prior to working with him?

I have listened to electronic music for 20 years. At that time, in my classical circles, it was frowned upon. I had never heard of the big techno anthems, and I went right back to ambient/IDM artists – the likes of Autechre, Aphex Twin, Model 500, Maurizio, UR etc.

Do you think there are other albums or pieces of music that bring classical and electronic together well?

Max Richter´s Four Seasons of Vivaldi works pretty well. Brian Eno also has a beautiful piece called Fullness of Wind, taking its lead from Pachelbel.

Do you think classical and electronic music have a lot more in common than one would expect?

I think meetings of the two styles are quite possible, if one avoids falling into the mainstream that we call crossover classical. The approach focuses on the sound result. We must respect the original script. Adding a beat onto a piece of Mozart or Beethoven cannot be a creative artistic process in itself.

Moreover, music known as ‘contemporary classical’ and art music has a lot in common with experimental electronic. Bridges are possible and desirable between these universes.

Has working with electronic music helped your appreciation of classical?

This does not specifically help me in my classical interpretation. What I greatly appreciate is to exercise out of my classical world, to transform the sound of my instrument, and to experience concerts differently, giving a new fresh perspective to my daily occupation of being a pianist.

For me, it is an interior window that opened itself, and I strongly hope that this is new cornerstone in the musical world which will contribute to the opening of minds and ears!

If you could recommend one piece of classical music to Arcana readers that you’ve been listening to recently, what would it be and why?

I would recommend listening to the Goldberg Variations of Bach (Glenn Gould, for example), the Death and the Maiden String Quartet by Schubert, or Tabula Rasa by Arvo Pärt, especially the second movement Silentium.

Statea, by Murcof and Vanessa Wagner, is out now on Infiné. The pair will appear at the Barbican on Monday 31 October as part of a bill including pianist Lubomyr Melnyk. Tickets can be purchased from the Barbican website. Vanessa will also be giving her thoughts on classical music to Arcana shortly!

Wigmore Mondays – Vilde Frang & Aleksandar Madžar play Bartók and Schubert


Vilde Frang (left, violin), Aleksandar Madžar (right, piano)

Bartók Violin Sonata no.1 (1921) (33 minutes)

Schubert Fantasy in C major D934 (1827) (21 minutes)

Listen to the BBC Radio 3 broadcast here, until 16 November

Arcana’s commentary

It is easy to see why Vilde Frang is held in such high regard. This contrasting program of Bartók and Schubert showed a steely side to her playing in the former, but also a purity of tone that could be easily appreciated throughout.

These qualities served her well in a powerful rendition of Bartók’s massive Violin Sonata no.1, but she could not have made this impact without Aleksandar Madžar’s superb piano playing, notable for its clarity and rhythmic precision.

Bartók and rhythm are inseparable, and the hold that folk music has on his compositions was all too clear in the syncopations and cross rhythms that Frang and Madžar exploited here. The angular tunes of the first movement (first heard at 2:07) had an assertive mood, brilliantly played.

Richard Bratby’s excellent program note reminded us how modern the music must have sounded in 1922, when Bartók himself played piano with violinist Jelly d’Aranyi, who became an important creative muse. Frang and Madžar powered through the first movement, making light of its technical difficulties, but in the second movement time stood still. Frang’s sweet but thoughtful tune, initially heard alone (from 14:26), was complemented by a solemn and mysterious chorale from Madžar (16:00), the two forces gradually aligning but still lost in a distant world.

The finale arrived with a flourish (25:15), both performers tackling it with some relish and achieving a remarkable unity of ensemble at the end (from 32:30), finishing with a terrifically spicy, bluesy chord.

Schubert’s Fantasy in C major can seem like a long piece in the wrong hands, but here it came alive. Completed in the last year of his life, it is conceived in a single span of four distinct sections, and is a very original piece of writing. Balance between the violin and piano is key, and this was spot on for the moving opening statement, where Madžar had a lot of work to do but was always responsive to Frang’s soft intonation (from 37:09)

A bracing Allegretto section (from 40:23) led to the centrepiece, a Theme & Variations (45:44) The origin of the theme, a Schubert song, was abundantly clear in this lyrical performance, while there was some sparkling playing from Madžar as the variations took hold (try 48:57) This flair and musicality continued to the return of the soft first movement theme, now shaping up in the finale (52:36), an emotional reunion in these hands before a convincing finish (from 57:40).

This was a superb concert, affirming Vilde Frang as one of the best violinists of her generation on the concert circuit, but also illustrating just what a fine pianist Aleksandar Madžar is too. Hear this if you can!

Further listening

You can hear more of Vilde Frang in an early album recorded for Warner Classics with Michail Lifits. Here she brings a sunny tone to violin sonatas by Grieg (no.1) and Richard Strauss, full of youthful exuberance, while there is more Bartók in the form of his Sonata for solo violin, a tour de force:

by Ben Hogwood

Wigmore Mondays – Hagen Quartet play Schubert’s last quartet

Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt, Veronika Hagen, Clemens Hagen (f.l.t.r)

Lukas Hagen, Rainer Schmidt, Veronika Hagen, Clemens Hagen (f.l.t.r)

Hagen Quartet Photo (c) Harald Hoffmann

For this performance, Veronika Hagen had to miss out with a shoulder injury. The line-up was therefore Lukas Hagen and Rainer Schmidt (violins), Iris Hagen-Juda (viola) and Clemens Hagen (cello)

Wigmore Hall, London, 18 April 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)


Available until 17 May

What’s the music?

Schubert – String Quartet in G major, D887 (1826) (55 minutes)


In case you cannot hear the broadcast, the Hagen Quartet’s recording of this work can be accessed through Spotify on the playlist below:

About the music

Schubert’s last quartet remains shrouded in secrecy. It is however another illustration of the ‘late’ Schubert’s ability to write at tremendous speed. ‘Late’ Schubert of course is the composer in his very late twenties, dogged by illness but still able to write a large string quartet such as this in a mere ten days.

He did not hear it in his lifetime, for the first performance did not take place until 1850 in Vienna – at which point the audience will no doubt have been surprised to note that the first movement, clocking in at well over 20 minutes, is the size of many Haydn quartets. It is classic late Schubert, finding its own sweet time but containing some extraordinary music of poignancy and depth.

It eclipses in size Schubert’s previous biggest quartets, known as the Rosamunde and Death and the Maiden respectively, but it goes further in exploring Schubert’s near-obsession with the conflict of major and minor mentality. The piece is listed as being in G major but often spends time in the minor, creating an exquisite tension resolved only in the final moments.

Performance verdict

Quite simply an outstanding performance from a quartet wholly inside the music. The Hagen Quartet kept extremely concentrated levels of performance throughout a gripping drama that took hold of the listener from the first moment and did not let them go.

The tension of the first movement never let up, its major-minor arguments sustained at an impressive level of intensity, but the second movement introduced more raw emotion in the form of Clemens Hagen’s yearning cello solo. The bubbling scherzo gave a little respite but in the finale the group restored Schubert’s tense arguments, never allowing one to dominate, holding the conflict firm.

They also reminded listeners of just how expansive Schubert’s quartet-writing had become, to the extent that some passages sound like a small string orchestra rather than four players. That the Hagens managed to do this without full-time viola player Veronika

What should I listen out for?

2:27 – the quartet begins and immediately sets out the idea that will give it extreme tension over the next 45 minutes. Here – and seemingly throughout – the music alternates between major (the very beginning) and minor (2:32), the listener torn between happy and sad and never quite sure which is which.

A certain amount of piece descends with the first theme proper from the violin at 3:09, given over hushed tremolos in the other three instruments.

At 6:36 the cello takes over with a beautiful theme, if somewhat hesitantly written in by Schubert. Then at 8:40 the quartet observe Schubert’s instruction to repeat the music from the beginning. From 14:58 the quartet slow the pace a little, giving the main tune a more graceful impression, but the tense movement in the other instruments takes over once again.

At 18:23 a serene home key is reached, and then the music heads into a more emphatic passage, closing out one of the longest single movements in the quartet repertoire (22 minutes)

26:17 – the second movement, marked Andante un poco moto, is a beautiful though rather sorrowful piece of music, introduced by a sparse chord and then passed over to the cello for a reflective, songful tune. This completely dominates the music, though there are two stormy interruptions (28:01 and (31:41), where Schubert feels more unhinged.

However at 34:11 the music shifts to the major, and for a brief moment all cares are forgotten as a shaft of sunlight comes through.

37:17 – the third movement is a Scherzo, and its scurrying main theme again sets the mood for the whole movement. It acts like the wind picking up stray leaves and whirling them around…before they are set down in the ‘trio’ section, beginning at 40:33, which features a charming melody from the cello which is almost suitable for the stage. This is taken up by the violins. The scherzo section returns in its entirety at 42:55.

45:25 – the last movement reinstates the conflict between major key and minor key, and holds it the whole way through til the end. It starts with the nervy tune, and the backwards and forwards continues in music of a distinctly wary energy. At 46:36 the violin introduces another prominent theme, this one more obviously happy in the major key. Then at 49:36 another melody asserts itself, this one more earthbound and like a hymn.

At 50:24 we hear the main idea of the last movement once again…through until at 55:16, when the hymn-like tune is more profound. The music then arrives at a final, massive two part cadence – completed at 57:20.

Further listening

How to follow one of the biggest works in string quartet literature? Well I’ve tried to go for a mixture of big and small in the additions to the playlist. For small-scale, you can enjoy another Schubert movement for string quartet, the brilliant, self-contained Quartettsatz, as it’s known. On a bigger scale, Schubert’s quartet is often compared and contrasted with his Symphony no.9, known as the Great – and that is noted below:

Wigmore Mondays – Maxim Rysanov & Ashley Wass: Schubert plus


Maxim Rysanov (viola), Ashley Wass (piano)

Wigmore Hall, London, 14 March 2016

written by Ben Hogwood

Audio (open in a new window)


Available until 13 April

What’s the music?

Schubert – Sonatina for violin and piano in G minor (arr. Rysanov) (1816) (20 minutes)

Leonid Desyatnikov Wie der Alte Leiermann (1997) (14 minutes)

Sergey Akhunov – Erlkönig (2015) (5 minutes)

Dobrinka Tabakova – Suite in Jazz Style (2008) (15 minutes)


Unfortunately most of the music in this concert is not available to stream…but there is a violin version of the Schubert that you can hear on the below playlist – which also contains some recommended listening and the originals of the Schubert songs inspiring the pieces by Desyatnikov and Akhunov:

About the music

This is a concert rather cleverly themed on the music of Schubert. Maxim Rysanov, though still a relatively new performer, has already contributed much to the available repertoire for the viola – and some of these contributions are in the forms of original compositions by Brahms and Schubert.

Schubert wrote three attractive Sonatinas for violin and piano, but their titles are misleading as they were applied posthumously. They are actually quite in depth pieces deserving of a bigger audience, and as Rysanov shows the G minor work transcribes nicely for viola and piano.

Russian composer Leonid Desyatnikov works predominantly in film, but wrote Wie der Alte Leiermann, his take on a song from Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise, for viola and piano. Likewise fellow Russian Sergey Akhunov expanded on Erlkönig, one of the composer’s darkest songs, to create a minimalist spectacular.

Finally Bulgarian composer Donbrinka Tabakova, with whom Rysanov has worked closely on an arrangement of a Schubert sonata for viola and orchestra, contributes a freely formed Suite in Jazz Style, where she looks to combine classical and jazz in a way successfully achieved by the likes of Stravinsky, Milhaud and Duke Ellington to name just a few.

Performance verdict

Maxim Rysanov is without doubt one of the finest viola players around, and he cemented that reputation with a series of powerful and passionate performances at the Wigmore Hall.

He has also gained a reputation for imaginative programming, and that was also in evidence, taking the music of Schubert and projecting it into much newer music and influences. This was a more guarded success, for the piece by Desyatnikov felt too long, despite its dramatic profile, and was rather relentless in its cold and downbeat mood. This does imply it was a successful recasting of the Winterreise song, which is hardly sweetness and light itself, but a little more light amongst the shade would have been welcome.

Akhunov’s Erlkönig was more effective as it had more momentum and rhythmic interest, though this too was starting to test the ear and run thinner on inspiration by the time its five minutes came to a close.

Far more involving was Bulgarian composer Dobrinka Tabakova’s Jazz Suite, for it was more obviously fun, as well as being more immediately emotional. There were some clever syncopations and use of the viola to get some truly unusual sounds, and Rysanov clearly warmed to this, in the company of Ashley Wass’s clear but nicely swung rhythms.

The Schubert with which the two began was very well played and carried an urgent dialogue throughout, reminding us that the three pieces in this form are not trifles, as the Sonatina name implies they should be – they are actually really substantial and memorable works.

What should I listen out for?


1:28 – a call to arms to begin (marked Allegro giusto by the composer, which becomes a bit more furtive as the piano takes the lead. This is repeated (2:51) and then developed from 4:14 – before a reprise back in the ‘home’ key at 5:12. Mostly the two instruments are equal partners, though they both become obsessed with the three-note figure that dominates Schubert’s thinking. Rysanov’s arrangement for viola lies relatively comfortably under the fingers.

6:55 – a relaxed Andante forms the slow movement, with a nice and simple theme from the viola. Schubert gives it plenty of space, and the whole movement – though relatively short – has a nice airy profile.

12:57 – the influence of Mozart can be more clearly felt in this brisk Menuetto. You would have to look pretty lively if you were dancing three in a bar! The viola is effective when Rysanov drops down an octave to exploit the lower range (e.g.13:48). A trio section (from 13:59) is nicely poised, before the main theme comes back at 14:54.

15:42 – this sounds more like one of Schubert’s songs, with an offbeat piano accompaniment to the main viola tune. There is a lively secondary tune though, which comes through to dominate – especially when Schubert brings it back in the main key at 19:05, to close what had initially been an uncertain piece in emphatic fashion…or so we thought! He then swings back to the minor key, but ultimately this tune wins through.


The inspiration for Desyatnikov’s piece is Schubert’s Der Leiermann, which can be heard here:

23:02 – the harsh tones of the viola’s opening strings evoke the hurdy-gurdy in coarse style. In response the piano line feels very cold, and the two exchange their ideas. Then there is a slow statement from the viola using harmonics () before things get very fraught between the instruments. At 28:43 a new, faster section starts with urgent sounds and a swing to the melody that sounds almost American. In the long closing section, from 33:30, the music’s frosty tone becomes almost devoid of feeling, though some outbursts (34:08) draw vivid parallels with the music of Janáček.


Akhunov’s inspiration is Schubert’s Erlkönig, which can be heard here:

38:48 – a twisted introduction, with plenty of discords, gives way almost immediately to an intriguing development, a pulsating tonal base from the piano and a melodic cell that grows steadily from the viola.


45:35 – this first movement, marked ‘Confident’, starts out with a walking bass in the piano deliberately written to imitate the sound of a plucked bass instrument. Over the top is an airy, improvisatory piece of work from the piano. The pair spar playfully until the viola literally dies away.

49:54 – the second movement is marked ‘Nocturnal’, and treats the viola as though it were a solo jazz singer. After a sultry introduction from the piano the viola comes in with a bluesy tune, moving between the major and minor keys with ease. Tabakova uses some intriguing techniques to vary the sound of the instrument.

56:12 – the third movement has a simple marking – ‘Rhythmic’. It starts almost inaudibly, scratching on the viola, but then the two instruments start trading a syncopated figure. The music has a happy disposition, and both viola and piano dance around each other, the viola becoming ever more expansive in its language. The two are restless bodies right until the end.

Further listening

There is plenty of good music for viola and piano if you look hard enough. Maxim Rysanov has recorded a fair bit of it already – and in a link with the music of this concert, here is an album begun by the Arpeggione Sonata arranged by Dobrinka Tabakova for viola and string orchestra:

Meanwhile you can watch her Suite in Old Style – again with Rysanov – below: