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A premiere performance of commitment and flair

Musical Opinion, Paul Conway

Review of the Gould Piano Trio’s concert at Buxton Festival in July 2022, published in the October-December 2022 edition of Musical Opinion.

At the heart of the Gould Piano Trio’s afternoon concert on 22 July 2022 at St John’s Church, Buxton was the first performance of John Casken’s Lust of Roots, written for the players in 2021. The title is drawn from a comment made by D. H. Lawrence regarding the importance of spontaneity, but the key inspiration for the piece is Part 5 of Kathleen Raine’s metaphysical Northumbrian Sequence, which describes a sleeper at the foot of a rowan tree, dreaming of the ‘darkness of the root’ and ‘the flow that ascends the vein’. The beauty and violence of Raine’s vision impressed Casken and the poet’s images of mountains, clouds, snows, snows [sic], winds, night, stars and storms caught his creative imagination.

Lust of Roots unfolded in a single, unbroken span divided into several clearly defined sections. In the substantial opening portion, no fewer than four principal subjects were set out: the first was dark and rich and contained two significant motifs, a repeated-note piano figure and an ascending thematic line introduced by cello; the second subject was plaintive and affecting, with bell-like piano writing; the third was dreamy, and the fourth tempestuous. Then came a scherzo, urgent and rhythmic, ushered in by pizzicato strings. The next episode took the form of a lyrical Northumbrian folksong on an original theme. There followed a second scherzo written in canon, taut and stormy and bristling with emphatic string accents. After a forceful, triple forte climax, the hushed coda revisited previous material as the work drew to close in broad, songlike phrases. In the final bars, the piano briefly recalled the repeated-note figure from the work’s initial material.

The allure and ferocity of the literary inspiration behind the notes was reflected in the strongly contrasted sections of this impassioned, closely argued piano trio. Wide-ranging melodic lines often stretched all three instrumentalists, though the various expressive effects were integral to the overarching narrative.

The Gould players rewarded John Casken’s lean and lucid score with a premiere performance of commitment and flair and the composer seemed justly delighted with this auspicious debut for his new work as he acknowledged the warm and ample applause.

The recital had opened with an incisive account of Beethoven’s Piano Trio in D, Op.70, No.1, ‘The Ghost’. A tense, unsettling opening Allegro was followed by a shadowy, long-breathed central Largo in which the musicians relished the sheer unpredictability of Beethoven’s volatile writing. The restorative concluding Presto was laced with wit and elegance.

After the interval came a joyous, hearty rendering of Dvorak’s ‘Dumky’ Piano Trio in E minor, Op.90.

The six movements’ slower sections were intense and wistfully introspective, the faster passages driven by tremendous spirit. The invigorating concluding movement contained grandeur and poise, as well as excitement.

This carefully compiled recital by the Gould Piano Trio made a rewarding contribution to the Buxton International Festival.

The performers’ considerable technical facility was invariably at the service of the music.

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28/05/2024