From the classic concert hall to quirky corners of the city, the brilliant Cambridge Summer Music Festival hosts the some of the world’s finest musicians, including the stylish Gould Trio.
Last night within the ancient walls of Jesus College Chapel, once a famous convent St. Radegund's, with its glorious painted ceiling, an entranced audience sat rapt as the ensemble played a sparkling programmed as stimulating as it was accomplished.
Can the youthful threesome really be marking their 25th anniversary? This ensemble scooped the pool of international prizes when they launched and toured the entire world to huge acclaim since. Their recordings are adored, they commission works from many British composers - and turn out a confident assured sound admired for its style through the concert halls of Europe and the Americas.
Last night they boldly went to that troubled genius Schoenberg, best known for his über-modern atonal works which have many listeners reaching for the off-switch unless they’re in a specially adventurous musical mood. Verlärte Nacht followed a gloriously joyous Haydn piece, so congenial and convivial in tone it conjured the conversation in a warm Viennese drawing room.
Not so Arnold Schoenberg’s work. Beginning lyrically with a yearning violin and piano synchronicity over a melodic piano, it swiftly changed register. Suddenly we heard the rebel voice crash through the centuries of classical repertoire of Haydn and Schubert, kick at the musical trammels and angrily demand attention. When it was first performed -- conducted by Mahler’s brother-in-law, it caused outrage.
‘Cacophonous and radical,’ cried the critics. But something had moved in the world of Mahler and Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms, the regular menu of the conservative Viennese. On a second performance the ensemble pretended the boos and catcalls from the stuffy Viennese were applause – and played it all through again to punish them.
Yet as performed and adapted by the Gould trio this music had it all – quiet melodic contemplation and heartfelt dissent. The exchange between violin and cello was so clearly a man and a woman in intimate discussion, it wasn’t a surprise to discover the entire work was based on a poem about sex and commitment where a woman confesses the child she is carrying is not her lover’s.
Shocking for conventional Vienna of 1902 – but not for the free-wheeling artists and composers who defied its crushing strictures. Modern, masterfully musical (Schoenberg was self taught in violin from the age of 8 years) but defiant, the notes sang around the medieval chapel where many a long night must have echoed to the sound of solemn plainchant and simple prayer – as a cry of anguish and joy together. What a success for three musicians, so brilliantly gifted they filled the space with their arresting strong sound from the outset. Little wonder they rose to shouts of delight from all around the sacred space.
A fiery show-piece by a youthful Johannes Brahms finished the programme. Clearly a young man in the grip of infatuation for Clara Schuman, wife of Robert, who had only just attempted suicide yet again by hurling himself into the Rhine. 22-year-old Brahms actually toned down this bravura piano trio but it remains a tempestuous tour de force the Gould players made as voluble and passionate as the composer could have hoped.
A tempestuous finish for a fine evening among the first of many musical delights the Summer Festival have devised over the next two weeks. This year the calibre of performers and the range of tastes they satisfy appears to promise a triumphant success for this admired Cambridge fixture.