New Zwilich quintet given world-class advocacy by KLR Trio and friends

By David Fleshler

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich's Quintet was given its Florida premiere by the Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio and colleagues Tuesday night at the Kravis Center. Photo: Christian Steiner

The music of Pulitzer-Prize winning composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich has been shamefully neglected for far too long locally, both in her hometown of Miami and in greater South Florida, where she remains a seasonal resident of Pompano Beach.

Happily, that seems to be changing. Zwilich, born in Miami and a graduate of Coral Gables High School, will be feted at the University of Miami’s Frost School of Music this Friday and Saturday with a lecture, master class and concert of her works. And Tuesday night at the Kravis Center in West Palm Beach, an augmented Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio presented the Florida premiere of her new Quintet for contrabass, cello, viola, violin and piano.

The work was commissioned by a dozen presenting organizations, including the Kravis Center. The performance of this energetic, bluesy work, built around motifs that stick with you after the concert, was given by the eminent KLR Trio, joined by violist Michael Tree and double bassist Harold Robinson.

Composed for the same set of instruments as Schubert’s Trout Quintet, which closed the evening, the work has a second movement with the title Die Launische Forelle, which according to Zwilich’s program notes, translates roughly as “The Moody Trout.” The first movement was a hard-driving work with moments of lyricism, made particularly sonorous by a wide range in tones between violin and bass, and spiky, rhythmically complex passages. The second movement proved less effective, dominated by blues motifs in violin and viola that had a familiar feel, although Tree, formerly of the Guarneri String Quartet, brought rich, melancholy tones from his viola. The final movement was the most successful—also bluesy but with an angular, rhythmic feel, characterized by sudden halts and accelerations that gave it a pulsing, street-smart tone, like music for a movie scene of undercover surveillance.

The musicians performed with knife-edged ensemble precision in this work that was written for them, giving it the extra jolt of energy that comes from a well-rehearsed, confident performance.

The concert opened with Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11, one of the most well-mannered of his early works. Pianist Joseph Kalichstein whiffed on a couple of fast passage—improving greatly as he warmed up over the course of the evening—and violinist Jaime Laredo occasionally drew a reedy sound from his instrument. But the variations of the last movement came off with great poise and wit. Although the Kravis Center’s main hall is better suited to opera and Broadway than chamber music, the crowd filled at least three quarters of the seats Tuesday, and the trio—as heard from Row U—achieved a refined, well-blended and sparkling sound in Beethoven’s music.

Schubert’s Trout Quintet closed the program, coming off with more accuracy and assurance than the Beethoven, relaxed chamber-music making by colleagues playing a work they know and love.

Particularly noteworthy was the dark Andante passage in the lower strings, with the violin audible as just glints of eerie texture. The fourth movement, a set of variations on Schubert’s song Die Forelle (The Trout), came off with unaccustomed dignity and rich musical textures, as the five musicians showed what world-class chamber music-making can sound like in a familiar cornerstone work.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “New Zwilich quintet given world-class advocacy by KLR Trio and friends”

  1. Posted Feb 29, 2012 at 5:16 pm by Bruce

    The reviewer, Mr. Fleshler, omitted any mention of the double bassist, Harold Robinson, who has been a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra forever. Considering there were two works on this program involving the bass (one being the most famous work of chamber music involving the bass), this is a egregious omission.

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Wed Feb 29, 2012
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