Macmillan; Schubert

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Macmillan; Schubert
LABELS: Wigmore Hall Live
WORKS: Fourteen Little Pictures; Piano Trio No. 2 in E flat, D929
PERFORMER: Gould Piano Trio


James MacMillan’s Fourteen Little Pieces for piano trio are only ‘little’ in clock time. Taken together (they unfold continuously) they add up to one of MacMillan’s most convincing large scale structures.

At the same time the need to concentrate thoughts and feelings into tiny spans gives his characteristic intensity extra bite and focus. The style is MacMillan at his least audience friendly.

The keening Celtic lyricism of many MacMillan scores is there, along with the familiar bluntly primitive gestures (especially the ending). But the twilit, haunted mood and fragmentary whispered textures, especially in the earlier movements, veer closer to the world of Schoenbergian expressionism than one usually expects in MacMillan.

In the end – as so often with MacMillan’s music – one wonders what kind of drama, or ritual, is being enacted here? Does the number 14 invite direct comparison with the Stations of the Cross?

The three excellent musicians of the Gould Trio make every detail tell in this live performance, while ensuring that the sense of mysterious progress is not lost.

They’re also very fine in the Schubert Trio, steering a mid-course between Trio Wanderer’s bracing Classicism (on Harmonia Mundi) and the Beaux Arts Trio’s finely shaded Romanticism (on Philips). Benjamin Frith’s delicious repeated notes in the finale are specially memorable.


Clear, well-balanced recordings, with minimal obtrusive audience noises, serve the music making very well. Stephen Johnson