The glorious Gould Piano Trio at St George's
An evening of Beethoven in Bristol
London has the Wigmore Hall, Bristol has St George’s. It’s an intimate venue, with a glorious acoustic – ideal for chamber music. Perhaps the ominous drizzle (soon to be torrential rain) on a mid-week evening kept the audience slimmer at the Gould Trio’s Bristol concert than it would have been at the Wigmore, but those intrepid audience members who had ventured out were well rewarded. This concert was worth the swim back home.
For while the Goulds, in their 20th anniversary year, are taking Dvořák to the capital, in the west we’re getting Beethoven. And what a treat this four-concert series of the Piano Trios looks set to be. The joyous ebullience of the Piano Trio in G, Op. 1 No. 2, with its expansive first movement, set the tone for the evening – the strings filled with warmth, the piano sound exquisite. The Largo con espressione glowed; the Scherzo lived up to its name, and the tempo seemed spot-on for the energetic Finale.
A comparative rarity rounded off the first half, the Allegretto WoO 39 – a single movement in 6/8 time. Written to encourage Maximiliane Brentano – a 9-year-old pianist to whom Beethoven later dedicated his Op. 109 Sonata – in her piano playing, it had a gentle grace and winsome good humour that the Trio relished.
The Theme and 14 Variations on an Original Theme opened the second half. Its spare theme entered, as the evening's programme notes said ‘on tip-toe’, the variations unfolding engagingly enough until the gem of the set: the Adagio in E flat minor.Here, again, pianist Benjamin Frith proved spellbinding.
Then it was on to the big-name work of the evening: the Ghost Trio. The initial furore of the opening theme was explosive, and there was a real sense of the music wanting to take flight, before the cello, left suspended on a single note, brings the group back to earth. The famous slow movement, associated with the sketches for an operatic version of Shakespeare’s Macbeth that Beethoven was working on at the time, had a suitably otherworldly spirit, and the terrific Presto was met with cheers suggesting an audience twice the size. Yes, I’ll be looking forward to when these three meet again…
Rebecca Franks is reviews editor of BBC Music Magazine