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Gould Piano Trio debut at Music Inverness with clarinet virtuoso Robert Plane in a chilly Inverness Town House conjuring up frozen vistas


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While the Gould Piano Trio were firm favourites at Clifton House in Nairn over many years, I was surprised that this was their first time in Inverness.

Robert Plane. Picture: www.saraporterphotography.co.uk
Robert Plane. Picture: www.saraporterphotography.co.uk

It was a pity they had such a chilly welcome, not from a large, enthusiastic audience, but from a perishing-cold Town House with no heating and outside windows open as a Covid measure. Sitting in a bitter cross-draft, the players’ discomfort was clear, frequent re-tunings inevitably leading to a broken cello string!

The group opened with a masterly account of the Fauré Piano Trio op 120, a beguiling work, which with its rippling, sparkling piano and shimmeringly lyrical strings seems to inhabit a parallel dream-world.

Suffering increasingly from deafness, the elderly composer’s growing isolation from “reality” is transformed in this Trio, and a number of other late chamber works, into a sublime exploration of “otherness”.

The world of the fabulous was also the inspiration for the next work, Huw Watkins’ Four Fables, for which the Trio was joined by clarinet virtuoso Robert Plane, another musician talent-spotted in his youth by Gordon Macintyre for the Clifton concerts. In the frosty environment in which we found ourselves, it was difficult not to interpret this engaging work as redolent of frozen vistas, the piano conjuring tinkling icicles, and the strings and clarinet evoking mists and pale light.

Plane’s stunning clarinet technique, with superhuman control in the altissimo register, complemented perfectly the effortless brilliance of the Gould Trio. True professionals all, they managed miraculously to bridge the interruption of the broken string, without losing the ambience of this wonderfully atmospheric piece.

Olivier Messiaen’s totemic Quartet For The End of Time was first performed in a freezing prisoner-of-war camp in 1941, which served slightly to contextualise our “first-world” suffering.

Using the instruments available and manuscript paper supplied by his German warders, Messiaen conjured up a magical work, which triumphantly transcended the restrictions and misery of its inception.

It is an iridescent piece in eight movements, touching on the mystical, the mythical, the sacred, and the natural world.

The composer’s fascination with birdsong is all-pervading – the Quartet opens with a dawn chorus, and the clarinet later has a solo movement built on birdsong. Sublime, chant-like utterances on the strings invoke a liturgical atmosphere, with which the work enigmatically and serenely concludes.

Adverse conditions can inspire transcendent triumphs – this was certainly the case with Messiaen, but equally with this masterly and memorable performance. D James Ross

Coming up next: Music Nairn – Trio Isimsiz (Jan 15); Music Inverness – Divertimenti Ensemble (Jan 20).

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