Brahms, dark and light, from KLR Trio and Cynthia Phelps

By Lawrence Budmen

KLR jpeg

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio performed music of Brahms Monday night at Temple Beth Am. Photo: Christian Steiner

Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 3 in C minor is a brooding, tempestuous score inspired by Goethe’s novel The Sorrows of Young Werther. (That tale of unrequited love leading to the protagonist’s suicide has inspired films and an operatic setting by Massenet (which Florida Grand Opera will present in April).

On Monday night the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio were joined by Cynthia Phelps, principal viola of the New York Philharmonic, for a performance of this chamber music masterpiece that stormed the heavens and glowed with romantic depth. Indeed the all-Brahms program, presented by the Friends of Chamber Music at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest, was a vivid demonstration of ensemble playing at white heat.

Following a bleak slow introduction, the players dug into the tempest-tossed Allegro non troppo with the contrasting moments of calm sensitively etched. After six decades on the concert stage, Jaime Laredo can still make his violin sing with both sweetness and sinew. Phelps’ deep well of viola tone provided the dark Brahmsian undercurrent. From the fierce opening chords, Joseph Kalichstein displayed powerful keyboard virtuosity.  The five players captured the mood swings of the Scherzo from demonic propulsion to light airiness.

Cellist Sharon Robinson spun the principal theme of the Andante, one of Brahms’ most beautiful melodies, in amber tones with a singing line, the three string players seeming to breathe as one. Kalichstein’s fleet playing captured the restless turbulence of the finale and the intensity was ratcheted up to a crescendo, the final two chords delivered as with tragic emphasis.

By contrast, Brahms’ Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major is a sunny, life-affirming work and the players brought  appropriate high spirits to a reading marked by refinement. Finely terraced dynamics added subtlety to the instrument dialogue, the softness of the pianissimos providing striking contrast to the full-bodied eruptions.

In the opening movement, Laredo and Robinson’s sound took on the sweetness of Viennese cafe players.  Kalichstein exhibited pearly tone and Phelps’ tonal glow and masterful control dominated the viola’s solo moments in the Poco Adagio. The forward tempo of the Scherzo was a welcome contrast to the leisurely pace many players adopt.

The final Allegro is one of Brahms’ liveliest confections and the players brought it to life with infectious verve. The final pages were taken at fierce speed to exhilarating effect. With ensemble performance at this high level and patrician insights, the standing ovation was well earned.

Friends of Chamber Music presents pianist Nikolai Lugansky playing works by Debussy, Scriabin and Rachmaninoff  8 p.m. February 4 at Temple Beth Am in Pinecrest.; 305-372-2975.

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Tue Jan 8, 2019
at 1:40 pm
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