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Matched to perfection

REX HARLEY closes his eyes
and enjoys the Gould Piano Trio


There is a delightful scene in the 1956 film The Green Man, where the lady members of a small Palm Court orchestra are vying for the attention of Alastair Sim. What begins with a flirtatious glance builds, as each member bids to outdo the other, into a series of extravagant gestures and dramatic faces, by way of 'interpreting' the music. In this concert, given by the Gould Trio, there was no contest. Though pianist, Benjamin Frith, went in for the occasional slump and hunch, and leader, Lucy Gould gave a few bravura flourishes of the bow, it fell to the cellist, Alice Neary, to sweep all the Oscars with a performance of staggering variety. Head, face, eyebrows, arms -- indeed, at one point, virtually the whole body -- were employed to demonstrate to the audience how much she was feeling the music. Call me a cynic, but I can't believe that a contemporary audience could find this anything other than comic. Indeed, one or two of the most prize expressions came straight out of the repertoire of Esma Cannon, that tiny doyenne of the Carry On film.

For great chunks of the recital, therefore, I simply closed my eyes. When I did, it sounded wonderful, which is the sole reason I feel justified in beginning with such a seemingly frivolous observation. The fact is, that aside from this criticism, the concert was a delight from start to finish; but the histrionics were distracting. What made them even more irritating is that a second- or third-rate player might be forgiven for attempting thus to compensate for poor technique. Alice Neary's musicianship, on the contrary, was first rate, as was that of her fellow players.

The Beethoven Trio in E flat (Op 1 No 1) was excellent: crystal clear, beautifully articulated. The Andante really was as cantabile as marked; the scherzo fizzed along; and throughout, the rapport between all three players was complete. They seemed not merely to be thinking, but also playing as one. Benjamin Frith's piano was limpid, and violin and cello were, tonally, matched to perfection.

But there was even better to come.

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Copyright © 21 March 2003 Rex Harley, Cardiff, UK


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