KLR Trio opens 2017 in style with superb playing, new Zwilich work

By Lawrence Budmen

The Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio performed Thursday night at Gusman Concert Hall for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Christian Steiner

The Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio performed Thursday night at Gusman Concert Hall for Friends of Chamber Music. Photo: Christian Steiner

At a pre-inaugural concert in January, 1977 for president-elect Jimmy Carter, the Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio made its public debut. Four decades later the group continues a robust performance schedule at major chamber music venues.

On Thursday night the trio made its annual appearance for Miami’s Friends of Chamber Music at UM Gusman Concert Hall and the event was festive indeed with the players delivering one of their best local performances in recent years.

Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s Pas de Trois, composed for the ensemble, was an exhilarating opener. In pre-performance comments, pianist Joseph Kalichstein told the audience that the score is based on the form of the balletic dance for three. The three protagonists are first introduced as an ensemble, followed by a slow section with solos for each player. A vigorous finale brings the three instrumental dancers back together for a final curtain call.

The fast opening measures set the tone for an energetic display piece, seasoned with a touch of the blues. Zwilich carries off the tricky combination of jazz and classical elements with great style. The burnished sound of Jaime Laredo’s violin and Sharon Robinson’s cello soared in the anguished melody of the score’s central episode. Incisive piano chords that underpin the string writing morph into the virtuosic coda. At less than 15 minutes, the compact score is first-rate Zwilich, replete with inspired themes and crisp rhythmic figures. Few composers pull off this type of populist fusion so superbly and the trio gave a tight, crisp performance that matched the score’s brilliance.

The storm-tossed first movement of Mendelssohn’s Trio No. 2 in C minor was assayed with classical directness. Laredo’s violin lines were appropriately devoid of overblown sweetness and Kalichstein’s varied dynamics were astutely gauged. One of this group’s consistent strengths is the individual players’ ability to shine in solo passages while projecting a cohesive corporate sonority. The balance between instruments was nearly ideal. The trio captured the depths of emotion beneath the singing melodies of the Andante espressivo.

This score’s Scherzo finds Mendelssohn in his Midsummer Night’s Dream mode and the musicians’ quicksilver lightness and articulation brought out the music’s playful aura. Kalichstein’s nimble keyboard touch was particularly incisive. Robinson’s strong attack at the onset of the “Allegro appassionato” finale set the tone for an impassioned reading. and Kalichstein’s spacious phrasing of the chorale “Herr Gott Loben Wir”  was eloquently realized. A full-tilt reprise of this theme from Bach’s Cantata No. 130 brought this Mendelssohn masterpiece to an exciting conclusion.

Brahms’ Trio in B Major is one of the composer’s earliest published chamber works which he revised in later years. It sings with pure Brahmsian romanticism. The cello writing adds a dark undertow to the piano and violin lines.

This familiar score was given the kind of freshness and free flowing imagination that made the listener hear details that usually go obscured and unnoticed. The sudden outbursts of drama were smoothly and organically achieved with the musical progression never turning choppy. In the Adagio, string fragments coalesced seamlessly into arching melodic strands, given appropriate weight and force by Laredo and Robinson. The final movement went with ample tempestuous spirit.

A highly enthusiastic ovation brought an especially beautiful encore – the Adagio from Beethoven’s Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 11. Robinson’s gorgeous sonority in the opening solo brought out the songful beauty of this early Beethoven gem and her colleagues were just as expressive. With playing on this level, may the Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio have many more productive years of music making.

The Friends of Chamber Music season continues 8 p.m. January 24 with pianist Kirill Gerstein playing Liszt’s Transcendental Etudes and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 2 at Coral Gables Congregational Church. miamichambermusic.org

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Fri Jan 6, 2017
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