Kalichstein brings insight, individuality to solo recital

By Lawrence Budmen

Joseph Kalichstein performed a recital for Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

Joseph Kalichstein is best known for his work as a founding member of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (now celebrating its 38th season of concerts) and as an educator but he is also a fine solo artist. Kalichstein brings an insightful approach to the keyboard repertoire and the power and impact of his playing is quite different from his carefully integrated chamber music performances.

On Tuesday night Kalichstein had the stage to himself in a recital for the Friends of Chamber Music at Coral Gables Congregational Church.

He made a bold choice by opening with Chopin’s Ballade No. 2. This score, which was dedicated to Robert Schumann, is a technical minefield that hardly could be considered a warmup piece. Indeed Kalichstein made a digital slip and there were some fudged passages along the way. Despite those brief lapses, he conveyed the huge contrasts between the poetic moments and the tempestuous sections effectively. The final fusillade was taken at a fierce clip, making the surprisingly quiet conclusion all the more effective. Kalichstein also showed real poise and professionalism in not being distracted by repeated ringing cell phones.

E.T.A. Hoffmann’s tale of a third-tier orchestral conductor with big dreams and diabolical fantasies forms the inspiration for Schumann’s Kreisleriana. Schumann dedicated this seminal keyboard work to Chopin who he had proclaimed “a genius.”

This is the type of repertoire Kalichstein excels at. Right from the start, he brought out the wild, manic aspect of Kreisler’s character. The more lyrical sections were given broad expanse with weighted undercurrents of a more somber subtext. Extremes of emotion, volume and tonal shadings suggested the contrasting sides of both the protagonist and Schumann’s own volatile mood swings. There was a touch of Lisztian devilry in the wild leaps across the keyboard in the penultimate “Sehr rasch’ section. Avoiding the slow, prosaic approach of some players in the “Schnell und spielend” finale, Kalichstein brought rhythmic incisiveness and textured subtlety to the sardonic melodic lines. Throughout the cycle, Kalichstein projected immense authority and superb pianistic control, drawing reserves of sound from the instrument.

Delving into less frequently played romantic repertoire, Kalichstein captured the angst in the Con moto agitato first movement of Mendelssohn’s Fantasy in F-sharp minor. Only the second movement of this work is typical Mendelssohn with its sprightly principal theme, deftly articulated by Kalichstein. The stormy aura of the final Presto suggests Beethoven and Kalichstein’s rapid voltage was totally idiomatic.

Brahms’ Variations on a Theme of Schumann, Op. 9, may not be the composer’s most mature work but it is a beautifully conceived tribute to Robert and Clara Schumann. The melancholy theme was played with restraint. In contrast to his earlier intense performances, Kalichstein let the music speak directly and unadorned by interpretive quirks. Outpourings of beautiful Brahmsian melody were finely etched. Dancelike sections had ample vigor but Kalichstein brought special sensitivity to the pensive variations. Even the spare bass line of the concluding section was rendered with poetic inflection, concluding a memorable performance of a rarely played gem.
Brahms’ Hungarians Dances Nos. 1 and 11 were the concert’s light-hearted finale. Kalichstein played these vignettes in a straightforward manner while drawing reserves of sonority from the Bösendorfer.

Kalichstein’s informal commentary throughout the program was delightful. He shared musical insights with the listeners as if he were speaking across a dinner table, avoiding the formality of a musicological lecture.

The Friends of Chamber Music season continues with the Dover Quartet playing works of Haydn and Borodin and Mozart’s Clarinet Quintet with clarinetist Alexander Fiterstein 8 p.m. March 20 at Coral Gables Congregational Church. miamichambermusic.org

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Wed Feb 21, 2018
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