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It hardly seems possible that the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Piano Trio is now celebrating its 25th anniversary! The three well-known soloists, who have always relished chamber music, formed a piano trio and made their debut at the White House for President Carter's inauguration in January 1977. With no personnel changes, the K-L-R Trio has built an enviable reputation for consummate interpretations of the standard repertory as well as a similar standing for commissioning works from contemporary composers.
All of these qualities were on display at their performance as part of the Classical Concert Series in Pinehurst, N.C., on November 18. The concert was held in the spacious Owens Auditorium of Sandhills Community College, where a large audience was on hand. This series rapidly outgrew its original intimate Sunrise Theatre home in Southern Pines.
One of Beethoven's longest trios, the C Minor (Op. 1/3), opened the concert. This key always held a special connotation for the composer, and Melvin Berger (in Chamber Music ) writes that this "is widely considered the most advanced of the Opus 1 trios and the first composition to bear the unmistakable stamp of his [Beethoven's] unique musical personality." From the beginning, Joseph Kalichstein was peerless in his ability to balance the volume of his piano with that of his colleagues despite having the Steinway piano lid fully up. All three carefully matched their phrasing and there was a wonderful sense of give and take throughout. Being early Beethoven, the first movement was tempestuous and dramatic. The trio set an ideal tempo for the singing line of the slow movement. There were subtle choices in dynamics in the course of the five variations. After a well-executed minuet, the finale brought back the brusque and stormy mood before ending with a whisper.
The otherwise excellent program notes erred in dating Leon Kirchner's Trio II, a K-L-R commission completed 1993 and premiered in December of that year at the 92nd Street Y. The pianist gave some background and information about the work for which the ensemble has advocated for a decade. Audience-friendly compared to his more uncompromising works, the Trio is a meditation on the various "-isms" and styles of 20th-century music. In notes for the Arabesque CD (Z676), the composer writes, "I... reviewed the course... that music had taken in the last several decades: from post-12 tone 'serialism' to uncertainty principles, from comedy to minimalism, and to the new (Romanticism), from formidable titles to invisible content... all the while feeling and hearing the gradual disintegration of 'Gestalt'... (or) 'formbuilding'..., that most vital and characteristic aspect of musical art in Viennese (culture)." Kalichstein aptly described the score as blending Bergian serialism with jazz elements. Melody-like sounds, tunes and chords suggestive of other composers were treated in phrases that "came in and out" of the sound picture. I fear I missed the quote of a "Bach-like chorale"; perhaps it was too fleeting. There were hints of impressionism. Jaime Laredo's excellent intonation was displayed in very high, exposed violin notes. There was some lovely warm writing for both strings as well as some high exposed harmonics. The ending was gentle. The intriguing work was not an audience favorite - one comment overheard: " I appreciate the musicianship it took to play it, not the work itself." Nevertheless, the Trio II can be studied at leisure on the cited Arabesque CD, along with works by Ellen Taaffe Zwillich, Arvo Pärt and Stanley Silverman, all commissioned by the K-L-R Piano Trio.
Few could have gone home unsatisfied with the trio's autumnal performance of the revised version of Brahms' Trio No. 1, in B, Op. 8. This a gentler view of the work than they espoused in their classic Vox recordings of the complete trios, made early in the ensemble's long career. Sharon Robinson's cello was a miracle of subtle dynamics matched by her partners. Few critical notes were taken as I basked in the late Brahms glow. This was a "palpable hit" with the audience that was rewarded with the finest live performance of the famous "Gypsy" Rondo (from Haydn's Trio No. 25, in G) that I have ever heard, not least for Kalichstein's delicate evoking of the sound of a fortepiano on the Steinway.
I have fond memories of the first year that I attended chamber music concerts including many that featured the Ciompi String Quartet. Sharon Robinson was the cellist that year. She was succeeded by Fred Raimi, who is the current player who was in the quartet with its founder, Giorgio Ciompi.