Celebrating 40 years of concertizing this season, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio arrived at the Kravis Center for two days of concerts Dec. 14 and 15.
Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, wearing all black, spoke eloquently of the group’s founding when they played the inaugural concert for President Jimmy Carter in 1977. Kalichstein also teaches at the Juilliard School of Music when not touring with the trio. Sharon Robinson, cello, and Jaime Laredo, violin, are respectively on the instrumental chamber music faculty of the Cleveland Institute of Music.
The three began their concert with a specially commissioned work by the Miami-born composer Ellen Taaffe Zwilich called Pas de Trois, to commemorate their 40 years together. Zwilich’s charming morsel is a happy combination of purely technical excellence with the distinct power of immediate communication.
Its first movement, “Entree,” has staccato rhythms passed around with many clever pauses, each player keenly aware and alert waiting for their cue to play. The second movement, “Variata e Coda,” gives each of the three a solo turn followed by an ensemble conclusion. The music is similar to that of the Entree, with astonishing quick piano runs that seem to dominate the piece.
The professional friendship of Zwilich and the trio goes back many years, and this new piece for them was commissioned by a consortium of presenters through the International Arts Foundation and had its premiere in Cincinnati on Sept. 18. Present for the concert, Zwilich (a part-time Pompano Beach resident) stood to acknowledge her round of applause when Kalichstein pointed to her in the audience. It was a very pleasant opener but alas, all too short; indeed, two movements too short.
Mendelssohn’s Piano Trio No. 2 (in C minor, Op. 66) followed. A strong violin opens the Trio, marked Allegro energico e fuoco. The music is serious and agitated, its swirling themes churning away restlessly. After the violin introduction the piano picks out the theme, then the cello. All three players extemporize, new melodies spring forth, and the brilliant piano part is echoed by the equally beautiful cello accompaniment. The stately violin chimes in from time to time as long downward piano runs lead to a double pianissimo section and the mood slips into complete peacefulness, refined and delicate.
The second movement, Andante espressivo, opens impressively with the piano and continues like a slow reflective waltz. Sweetly divine music played exquisitely by all three musicians. A Scherzo is third. And as one might expect from the king of nimble scherzo writing — think A Midsummer Night’s Dream — it is a fleeting, brilliant movement beginning with a forceful attack from all three instrumentalists. Known for being diabolically difficult for pianists, Kalichstein’s fingering of the difficult runs was incredibly accurate.
The weightier Finale opens with the cello accompanied by piano. The tune is familiar. The violin picks it up and caresses it lovingly in long sustained phrases. A chorale like hymn develops, and there is a dignified feeling of celebration. The Trio’s earlier themes are integrated with it. Question and answer take on many forms, returning again and again. A grand quasi-orchestral sound emerges as the chorale tune dominates one last time leading to a frenzied, but well-controlled ending.
After intermission, the Trio tackled Schubert’s Piano Trio in E-flat major (D.929). This piece was completed in December 1827, 11 months before Schubert died. The KLR Trio gave it a tentative start. The piano part has many testing sections full of tricky arpeggios both loud and soft, highlighting Kalichstein’s wonderfully sensitive piano playing. The balance between all three players in this very mature Allegro was close to perfection.
Next, the Andante con moto saw heads and hands tapping to the beat all around as the familiar tune began to appear. Used as background music for movies such as Barry Lyndon and Crimson Tide, the tune progresses in its hauntingly beautiful way, the Trio caressing each crescendo lovingly with subtle emphasis. A happy Austrian country dance makes up the Scherzando. It trips along nicely with lots of repeats, each instrument playing follow-the-leader through playful canons.
The last movement, Allegro moderato, opens with the piano. Violin and cello join to make a big statement. Quick runs from the violin, cello and piano lead to a long languid melody on the cello. Brilliant accompaniment at the top of the piano keyboard sounded wonderful. Canonic writing uses inventive melodies ad infinitum as the music rises and falls incessantly.
Taking their bows, the players looked tired, especially Robinson, who, when she wasn’t playing, occasionally had to shake her wrists to keep them flexible. Forty years is a long time to be playing together, and it takes its toll. But we’ve been fortunate that they’ve done so, troupers that they are.