Some concerts, and the artists therein, offer a performance so involved that the review in question is often as good as written there and then. This is one such example. As part of The Philharmonia’s City of Light series, this evening saw the Gould Piano Trio perform two duos of differing combinations by Ravel and Poulenc, framed by Ravel and Debussy’s own Piano Trios.

Gould Piano Trio © Gould Piano Trio
Gould Piano Trio
© Gould Piano Trio

Within both piano trios the Gould Trio struck a fluidity between lightness of touch, variety of articulation and a depth of sound that drew attention to the contrasts between lugubrious washes of sound and moments of whimsy in the meandering first movement of the Debussy in particular. Similarly, the fourth movement of Ravel’s Trio could not have opened with a lighter touch and thus been any more pregnant with expectation. At various points Benjamin Frith’s sparkling and almost weightless handling of the arpeggiaic figurations was ticklingly exciting. Thus, at both ends of the recital this made a pointed contrast to Poulenc’s Stravinskian percussive bursts which Frith handled with incisiveness.

Indeed, what remained apparent throughout the concert (and what strikes me whenever I hear the Gould Trio perform) is their natural intuition to explore the full timbral capacities of their instruments, and their relish in doing so. There was fine blending between all members, particularly Lucy Gould and Alice Neary. This came to the fore in unison moments, but most strikingly at the opening of Ravel’s Duo, in which Neary’s playing was both clean and refined in the very stratospheric registers of the instrument. The fourth movement was full and carried with great volume, despite being only for two instruments. Elsewhere, the Passacaglia from Ravel’s Trio was taken with a withheld amount of vibrato by Neary, imbuing a sense of plaintive emptiness in contrast to Gould’s more full adoption of the theme, with fuller vibrato. Both were supported by a warm, rich bed of chords from Frith.

This said, the considered, ‘poetic’ qualities of the Trio and the three players are not to be weighted above their individual virtuosic capabilities. There was a sense of effortlessness in even the most technically difficult of moments. This opened up the potential for playfulness, for example, in the chaotic and knotty second movement of Ravel’s Trio, and allowed for a sense of ever-forward motion amid Gould and Nearys’ pushing and pulling in the second movement of his Duo.

There is a lot to be said for ensembles in which each member comes together with a soloist’s mind-set. The Gould Trio, however, sets a fine standard for an ensemble which behaves as a single unit comprised of three very vital and interdependent components.