with ROBERT PLANE clarinet

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Wednesday 25th November – Saturday 28th November 2020


Milhaud Suite for violin, clarinet and piano
Mozart Trio in G K564 (Starts at 14:20 min)
Brahms Trio in C op 87 (Starts at 34.40)
We hope you enjoy this podcast which The Gould’s and Richard specifically recorded for Ilkley Concert Club members from their front room.

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PROGRAMME NOTES – © C.N.Lane and A. J. Keith 2020 

DARIUS MILHAUD (1892-1974) – Suite for violin, clarinet and piano

Introduction et Final

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By comparison with the frequently performed works of his contemporaries Poulenc and Ravel, the works of Darius Milhaud are not often heard today, although he was among the most important French composers of the 1920s and 30s. He began composing in 1912 and did not stop until his death, creating an astonishing output of about 450 known works covering opera, ballet, orchestral works, incidental and chamber music (including eighteen string quartets) and religious music. He has been called a ‘musical omnivore’ as he absorbed influences from the musical life of wherever he happened to be – from Brazil in the 1920s, from America in the 1930s and 40s and always from Europe, especially France.

Born in Aix-en-Provence, Milhaud moved to Paris in 1909 to study under Widor at the Conservatoire (where he later became Professor of Composition, a post he also held at Mills College in California from 1940). After his return to Paris in 1918, following a war-time official posting to Brazil, Milhaud met the influential composer Erik Satie and joined a group of composers called, by Jean Cocteau, ‘Les Six’. The group, which included Poulenc and Honegger, went on several foreign tours including to America, Vienna and the USSR and Milhaud’s work at this time shows the influence of Brazilian music (for example, L’homme et son désir, 1918) and of American jazz (La création du monde, 1923). He was generous to his fellow composers (he assiduously promoted Schoenberg’s music in France) and was chiefly responsible for saving Satie’s manuscripts after the composer’s death in 1925. Milhaud obviously shared Satie’s idiosyncratic sense of humour and contributed to his Musique d’ameublement or ‘furniture’ music, a sardonically descriptive term for background or interval music first coined by Satie in 1917. During the 1920s Milhaud began a systematic study of tonality and developed what was to become a highly distinctive keynote feature of his music, bitonality and polytonality (the combination of two keys or two or more keys used simultaneously). While this may appear to be a difficult concept, Milhaud’s music, through his use of a wide variety of appealing styles and techniques that include jazz, folk music, syncopation and interesting instrumental combinations, generally succeeded in avoiding the harshness and discordancy of much of the Second Viennese School, although his experiments in tonality actually placed him in advance of many other radical musicians of the period. During this period he also experimented with form and was particularly attracted to concision and directness and in writing succinct music that said what it had to say and no more.

Between 1915 and 1968, Milhaud composed prolifically for both film and theatre. In 1936, Jean Anouilh asked him to write the incidental music to his play Le voyageur sans bagage, produced in Paris in 1937. It is this incidental music (op. 157) that subsequently became the Suite for violin, clarinet and piano (op. 157b). The suite is based on the conventional pattern of contrasting movements but this is as far as tradition takes Milhaud whose musical and stylistic ideas in this attractive work are wide-ranging and completely his own. He employs his signature polytonality throughout the suite’s four brief movements, although this is often only apparent to the most attentive listener. The first movement, Ouverture, with its strong syncopation and obvious South American influences, reflects Milhaud’s two years in Brazil, while the second movement Divertissement allows for more gentle and imitative interplay between the violin and clarinet and between them both and the piano. Jeu, for violin and clarinet alone, is a strongly rhythmic and lively folk dance with the two instruments alternately taking the lead. The final movement begins slowly and meditatively before giving way to the energetic, vivacious and jazzy finale.

(Duration: approx. 12 minutes)

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WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART (1756-1791) – Trio in G K564

Andante (con variazioni)

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Until the final three decades or so of the eighteenth century, a keyboard work (with the keyboard used either as a solo instrument or in combination with other instruments) was commonly understood to be a work for harpsichord (or perhaps organ) and was published as such. The piano (or fortepiano) at this time was a comparatively new invention and it was not until the late 1700s that the instrument began its unstoppable rise to the keyboard supremacy it subsequently achieved. The harpsichord was a familiar instrument both in concert and domestically and, with an eye to the market, composers and publishers naturally did not rush to embrace the new and relatively untried fortepiano. Indeed, throughout the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, sonatas – including even the early sonatas of Beethoven – frequently continued to be described as works for either harpsichord or piano. Mozart, however, enthusiastically embraced the transition to piano and was known to be a superb pianist so both as composer and performer he exercised a great influence on the acceptance of the piano and its repertoire. From the mid-1770s Mozart performed regularly on the fortepiano and, from 1778,  it is almost certain that he intended all his works that included keyboard to be played on the new instrument. He actually bought a piano following his move to Vienna in 1781.

Mozart’s early works in the keyboard chamber repertoire followed the common practice of  being traditional, fully worked-out keyboard sonatas with additional instruments ad libitum taking a subservient place. This genre – known as the accompanied sonata style –  was certainly continued by Haydn for some time after Mozart’s death. The keyboard parts that Mozart wrote for his piano trios however were quickly seen as needing a far greater expressive range and ability to blend with other instruments than was possible on a harpsichord. Rather than the keyboard predominating throughout (as in an accompanied sonata) he achieved, in the trios, a perfect artistic balance between the piano and other instruments, particularly the violin and cello, and this combination was so influential that it was to become a classic ensemble in chamber music literature.

Mozart’s final set of six piano trios (K496, 498, 502, 542, 548, 564) were written in Vienna between 1786 and 1788. K564, written in 1788, the same year as the Divertimento for string trio K563, the ‘Coronation’ piano concerto K537 and his final three symphonies, was first published in 1789, but in London rather than Vienna. At this time, Mozart was again financially embarrassed which has caused some critics to suggest that this comparatively direct and straightforward work was aimed chiefly at the amateur market, as contemporary publishers’ catalogues show that amateur musicians were among their most important customers. Be that as it may, K564 is charming and tuneful and begins with a flowing Allegro in sonata form, the solo piano stating each theme before it is taken up by the violin and cello, a pattern followed throughout the work. The second movement comprises a warm folk-like theme and variations, in which the beautiful interplay between the instruments brings out the essential qualities of each. The work concludes with a vivacious Allegretto in a dotted dance-like 6/8 rhythm that never loses its momentum whether in a wistful minor mood or in a lively peasant dance.

(Duration: approx.18 minutes)

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JOHANNES BRAHMS (1833-1897) – Trio in C op 8

Allegro moderato
Andante con moto
Scherzo: Presto
Finale: Allegro giocoso

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In the summer of 1882, at his holiday home at Bad Ischl, Upper Austria, Brahms settled down to complete two piano trios, one in E-flat the other in C Major. Despite Clara Schumann expressing a strong preference for the former, Brahms soon discarded it to concentrate on the C Major. The piece falls between the completion of the life-affirming Second Symphony and the much darker Third and it shares the complex textures and shifting moods of those masterpieces from the height of the composer’s career. It is fair to say that the overall texture is weighty. In addition to the symphonies, Brahms was also at this time completing his monumental Second Piano Concerto; it is no surprise that, in the Trio, the strings often have to join forces to prevent the sumptuous piano writing overwhelming them. The notoriously self-critical Brahms was sure of the worth of his new work, writing to his publisher Simrock, ‘You have not had so far such a beautiful trio from me and very probably have not published one to match in the last ten years.’

The Allegro opens with fanfare-like melodic leaps. Two main themes are introduced, each, in turn, containing two main ideas which Brahms proceeds to develop with astonishing contrapuntal skill. The rhythmic textures become ever more restless and irregular, reduced in the ear to great swells and ebbs of sound. The energy rarely subsides as the development and recapitulation sections are ingeniously synthesised. An altered, waltz-like version of the opening theme dominates the substantial coda which brings the movement to a close.

The slow movement enters in the relative key of A minor with a theme and five variations on a melody in the style of Magyar folk music. The tune employs a syncopated rhythmic device known as a ‘Scotch Snap’ in which a short, accented note is followed by a longer one. The simplified texture of the music comes as something of a relief and the tempo remains andante con moto throughout. In the penultimate variation, the strings are directed to play dolce (sweetly) whilst, not to be outdone, the piano’s contribution should be dolcissimo sempre (always very sweetly).

The nervous and slightly mysterious scherzo is a little reminiscent of the ‘fairy’ music of Mendelssohn and it frames, in its trio section, one of the most lovely, lyrical melodies which Brahms ever composed.

Some critics have complained that the Finale (marked giocoso – humorous, lively) is, by comparison to the rest of the work, excessively lightweight. Certainly, the music is unfussy and straightforward but it serves as a delightful sorbet counterbalancing and rounding off the heftier preceding musical courses.

(Duration: approx. 28 minutes)

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THE GOULD PIANO TRIO with ROBERT PLANE (clarinet) – © C Skidmore

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The Gould Trio are Lucy Gould (violin), Richard Lester (cello) and Benjamin Frith (piano). This is their third appearance in an Ilkley programme.

The Gould Piano Trio launched upon the chamber music scene with their first prize in the First Melbourne Chamber Music Competition in 1991 and have remained at the forefront ever since. They have been directly compared to the famous Beaux Arts Trio for their ‘musical fire’ and ‘dedication to the genre’ in the Washington Post and lauded in The Strad as ‘Pure Gould’.

Their many appearances at London’s Wigmore Hall have included the complete piano trios of Dvorak, Mendelssohn and Schubert – plus in the 2017-18 season, a Beethoven cycle, to celebrate 25 years since their first appearance at this iconic venue.

Commissioning and performing new works is an important part of the trio’s philosophy of staying creative and freshly inspired: recent commissions have included works from Huw Watkins and Sir James Macmillan. They have also championed neglected gems from the late romantic British repertoire with recordings of works by Bax, Ireland, Milford, Stanford, York Bowen and Cyril Scott.

The partnership between Robert Plane and the Gould Trio stretches back 25 years and is renewed yearly by their joint direction of the Corbridge Chamber Music Festival. The fact that Robert is married to Lucy Gould, violinist of the trio, clearly intensifies this, but the whole ensemble has a feeling of family and of a wealth of shared experience. Richard Lester, cellist of the trio, also happens to be Lucy Gould’s brother-in-law, completing the family bond.

Lucy Gould (violin) studied at the Royal Academy of Music and Indiana University, Bloomington, with Gyorgy Pauk and Josef Gingold. Courses at Prussia Cove, Yale Summer School and the Banff Centre for the Arts, working with Andras Schiff, Menahem Pressler and the Amadeus String Quartet were a great inspiration to her.

As well as her work with the trio, Lucy performs regularly with Leon McCawley (piano) and David Pyatt (horn). She holds the position of principal 2nd violin of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe and is a teacher at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff, where she lives with Robert and their three children. Lucy plays a Joseph Guarnerius filius Andreae violin from 1703.

Richard Lester (cello) was a member of the award-winning Florestan Trio, a founder-member of the ensemble Domus, has been a member of Hausmusik and the London Haydn Quartet and succeeded Alice Neary as the cellist of the Gould Trio. He was for many years principal with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and has been principal cello with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe since 1989.

Together with violinist Anthony Marwood, Richard Lester is co-director of the highly successful Peasmarsh Chamber Music Festival in East Sussex. His recordings of the complete works of Mendelssohn for cello and piano, and a disc of Boccherini sonatas on period instruments, are both available on Hyperion. Richard teaches at the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School in London.

Benjamin Frith (piano) is an acclaimed solo pianist who has performed in Ilkley on two occasions. He was educated at the University of Leeds: subsequently, studying under Fanny Waterman, he was encouraged to embark on a musical career, and went on to win a number of  competitions including the Gold Medal at the 1989 Artur Rubinstein Piano Master’s Competition in Israel.

He has gone on to play with many of the world’s best orchestras and has recorded for Naxos a best-selling John Field concerto cycle with the Royal Northern Sinfonia. Chamber music has always been a major interest and, as well as his work with the trio he has formed the Frith Piano Quartet and is often a guest pianist with illustrious quartets such as the Chiligirian, Dante, Elias and Endellion.

Benjamin Frith is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama and teaches at the Royal Northern College of Music.

Robert Plane (clarinet) has had a hugely varied career as an orchestral musician, concerto soloist and chamber musician which has included performances of the Mozart concerto across the world and an appearance at the BBC Proms in 2011. Rob has tirelessly pursued a particular passion for British clarinet music in concert and on disc, his Gramophone Award winning account of Finzi’s Concerto and his disc of Bax Sonatas being just two of a large collection of recordings of works by the great English Romantics. The highlight of his recordings with the Gould Piano Trio is their recording of Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time, which they were to have played at our cancelled concert.

Rob is principal clarinet of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and has held the same position with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra and Royal Northern Sinfonia. He was recently appointed Head of Woodwind Performance at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama.

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Milhaud: The classic Melos Ensemble recording with Gervase de Peyer (clarinet) is only available at present in a boxed set of The Complete EMI Melos Ensemble recordings on Warner Classics 9185142 [11 CDs for around £25].  It includes many of the staples of the chamber music repertoire including the Mozart and Weber Clarinet Quintets and the Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn Octets together with a good selection of early twentieth century pieces.  For a single recording at budget price there is the recording of selected Milhaud chamber works, including his sonatina for clarinet by Jean-Marc Fessard (clarinet), Frédéric Pélassy (violin) & Eliane Reyes (piano) on Naxos 8572278.

Mozart:  The Kungsbacka Piano Trio have made an excellent recording of this work, coupled with Piano trios K542, 548, 442.The performances are invigorating, and the technical quality of the recording is superb. The medium price CD is produced by Naxos 8.570519. A superb alternative on Decca 446 1542 (2 discs at budget price) has the reliable Beaux Arts Trio performing all the Mozart Piano trios, including the Clarinet trio with Jack Brymer.

Brahms: The Complete Trios by The Florestan Trio, which includes Richard Lester (cello) from The Gould Trio, with Richard Hosford (clarinet) and Stephen Stirling (horn) on Hyperion CDD22082  is a clear first recommendation for any of the five works featured [2 CDs for about £13].

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