The Gould Piano Trio are frequent and welcome visitors to Nairn, with their admirable blend of innovative programming and superb ensemble.  Both these elements were prominently in evidence in their latest performance for Music Nairn as they presented two towering masterpieces of in the genre and one squeaky new piece, receiving its Nairn premiere.  The concert opened with the flamboyant flourishes of Brahms' third Piano Trio in C minor, a late work which sees the fifty-three-year-old composer at the height of his expressive powers.  Unlike the more melancholy late works for clarinet, this Piano Trio is a work which wears its heart on its sleeve, and is full of the passion more usually associated with youth than late middle age.  The Gould Piano Trio's legendary rapport was a major contributory factor in the stunning success of their reading of this work, with an exquisite balance and unity of purpose pervading all of the movements.  Particularly touching was the lyrical Andante Grazioso where the two stringed instruments detach themselves from the piano for extended episodes of serene melodic interaction.  This was classic Brahms at its very finest and most compelling.

The first half concluded with a work on which by contrast the ink is barely dry, the second Piano Trio by Scottish composer James MacMillan, a work specially commissioned by the Gould Piano Trio and premiered earlier this year.  Whatever medium he is writing for, MacMillan can be guaranteed to explore fully the potential of the instruments individually and in ensemble in order to come up with genuinely original sound-worlds which both challenge and intrigue.  These novel textures abounded in a brief and hectic work in a series of sound tableaux, which seemed to provide an aural tour of MacMillan's musical inflences.  An abrasive opening passage, which returned at the end, recalled the biting satire of some of the early works of Shostakovich, while in an extended central series of cameos boogie-woogie and nebulous and ghostly harmonics rubbed shoulders with haunting episodes of pseudo-celtic airs on the violin.  A work of almost bewildering eclecticism and witty in mood rather than profound, MacMillan's second essay in the Piano Trio genre is in dramatic contrast to his first Trio, but I am sure that the composer will be delighted to know that he is still able to keep his listeners guessing.

Franz Schubert is a composer whose symphonic music exhibits the clarity of chamber music and much of whose chamber music has the epic quality of symphonic music.  This is to a great extent due to his circumstances, which saw him write much of his chamber music for himself and his friends to play and which denied him any meaningful performances of his symphonies in his own lifetime.   Both dating from his final years, his two Piano Trios are now regarded as cornerstones of the repertoire, and the first Trio D989, completed in 1828 just before the composer died of syphilis, is a particularly epic utterance.  As with all of Schubert's mature chamber music, this is a work of flawless craftsmanship but also of superlative melodic inspiration.  Benjamin Frith's elegantly articulated and eloquent keyboard technique allowed Schubert's distinctive piano writing to shine through the texture, while Alice Neary's plangent cello tone and Lucy Gould's full-toned and beautifully nuanced violin playing meant that this was the perfect line-up with whom to explore Schubert's great masterpiece.  The group's established reputation amongst concert-goers in Nairn had brought in a capacity audience, who greeted this stimulating and satisfying concert with a suitably extended ovation, to which the Gould Piano Trio responded in turn with a delightfully louche setting of A Cornish Boat Song by English composer Cyril Scott, a musician much admired during his creative years in the first half of the twentieth century, but whose unapologetically late-romantic vocabulary has led to his almost complete neglect in our own time.

D James Ross


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