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Sunday, March 29, 2015

Ménage à trois

From the Classical Vault Dept.: The mention I made a couple of days ago of Andy Stein’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime” reminded me of the concert at which it was the encore piece. Now you can share the memory thanks to the five-year-old review below.


THE SERIES BEGAN 20 YEARS AGO, and artistic director Chantal Juillet opened Monday’s concert with what no doubt will be the first of many goodbyes as she and new husband Charles Dutoit prepare to take their talents elsewhere.

Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio
Photo by Christian Steiner
Having this world-class trio kick off the summer chamber music season is testimony to her vision and influence. Programming has always been a mix of new sounds and standards, and if the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio’s program (Beethoven-Brahms-Shostakovich) adhered to the latter, it reminded us why such pieces persevere.

Although Brahms’s big Trio in B Major, Op. 8, should be the fulcrum of any program it inhabits, its thunder was swiped by the Shostakovich piece that ended the first half. The Russian composer wrote his Trio No. 2 in E Minor in 1944, after learning of both the death of a close friend and the horrific revelations of Nazi death camps.

Shostakovich wore his pain on his artistic sleeve, and this piece pulses with pain. It’s not unrelenting – he had a wide range of expressive devices at hand, and even in the seemingly spare context of a musical threesome he painted textures Brahms and Beethoven never went near.

It hardly trivializes Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11, to note that its finale, a theme and variations, is as frivolous as the passacaglia variations in Shostakovich’s trio are heartbreaking. We know that Beethoven must have written his trio to please populist taste: compared to the Op. 1 trios published a couple of years earlier, it’s a frothy, three-movement piece the first two movements of which are little more than an intro to the variations on a then-well known tune from a forgotten opera by Joseph Weigl. And the violin part was designated by the composer as also appropriate for clarinet.

The performers pushed the piece into the Romantic era with a number of interpretive techniques, such as the pause before the first movement’s exposition repeat and the extreme fortissimo with which they whupped the start of the recapitulation.

Unlike the other two works on the program, this one puts violin (Jaime Laredo) and cello (Sharon Robinson) in a separate but fairly equal relationship with the piano, and the string players work together as one, beautifully matched.

The start of the Shostakovich is technically brutal, calling for tough-to-play false harmonics from the muted strings as the work eases through a haunting beginning. Here the trio was united, with pianist Joseph Kalichstein completely at home in Shostakovich’s plangent piano language.

And they’re all proficient enough to take the second movement, an Allegro non troppo, not quite as non troppo as I’ve heard elsewhere without sacrificing accuracy and playing up its sardonic nature. As noted, the passacaglia that follows was sculpted magnificently, and the piece concluded with a savage Allegretto that ran a gamut of texture and tone.

And so to Brahms. Here the intensity of performance flagged somewhat. A few missed notes, a slight sense of weariness. Perhaps it should have been piece number two.

Again, the ensemble informed it with interpretive touches like a slight pause just after the opening theme’s pick-up note, touches I find unnecessary and don’t hear in older records anchored by the likes of Arthur Rubinstein. I fear that the past couple of performer generations feels a need to personalize the works they play, which I believe can be done with a closer ear on the metronome.

Nevertheless, it was a passionate performance of a satisfying piece. Brahms wrote what are probably the most engaging piano parts in chamber-music literature, and Kalichstein made them transparent. Likewise, Laredo and Robinson added a level of accomplishment that only comes from combining technical excellence with a longtime performing relationship. There aren’t many dedicated piano trios these days: perhaps this threesome has scared the others off.

The program’s encore, appropriate to the season, was jazz violinist Andy Stein’s trio arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime.”

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio; Spa Little Theatre, Aug. 2

Metroland Magazine, 5 August 2010

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