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Listen with Care: Trio at Work

Music Review
by Kevin T. McEneaney
Sun Jun 23rd, 2019

Jaime Laredo, Joseph Kalichstein, Sharon Robinson

Hudson Valley Chamber Music Society sponsored the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio at Bard College’s Olin Hall on the evening of June 22. Opening the program was Pas de Trois by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich (2016). It was nice to have a contemporary piece and best of all it was lively and fun. Full of syncopated jazz rhythms, the violin, cello, and piano enact three different dancing roles, as in a ballet with each instrument playing, so to speak, on its toes. It is love’s old triangle with melodious solo, duo, and trio conversations as instruments explore and probe each other with some irreverence. While not terribly ambitious, this work is delightful, great fun, and supplies a grinning finale as the instruments agree on a threesome. What a charming way to open a concert!

Robert Schumann’s Six Études in Canonic Form Op. 56 (1845). While originally written for pedal piano, Hector Berlioz arranged a four-hand piano version and Claude Debussy created a two-piano version. The version played by KLR Trio was an 1885 arrangement made by Schumann’s friend, Theodore Kirchner. I had never heard these pieces played before and they were both much more melodious and saner than I thought possible. Each of the six meditations in counterpoint evolved into a solemn and pleasing resolution without any wild Romantic posturing. It was a Schumann revelation I had never expected. While the first five movements leaned toward elegy at the conclusion, the last movement was delicately, explicitly, elegiac, as if paying devoted tribute to the memory of J.S. Bach. Both Laredo on violin and Robinson on cello offered especially sensitive textures.

Joseph Kalichstein introduced Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A major (1914) as one of the greatest masterpieces of the 20th century. The opening movement’s 8-8 structure sounded quite strange. Ravel must have been wearing his huge Basque sombrero when he wrote this with its irregular, angular rhythms. The second movement reveled in bright brilliance: Kalichstein could shine with glittering arpeggios to foot-stomping Basque dances as the strings ignored him while they did their own intimate dance; it was as if dramatizing the gulf of miscommunication, whether social or sexual. It comes as a matter of relief that the third movement picks up the melody of the first movement, yet it promptly dives into the Spanish format of passacaglia. Was the rational irrationality of this work merely a Basque bravura display of difference or a celebration of novelty through Basque enigma? Here was a new harmonic language for the new century, but it was more of an astonishing explosion of technical virtuosity than sonorous pleasure.

Seductive melody and sonority were the hallmark of Felix Mendelssohn in his Piano Trio No. 1 in D minor, Op. 49. (1839). I realized that the cerebral difficulty of Ravel had set the audience up to greet Mendelssohn with great acclaim. The Trio played with such exquisite unity that the audience fell into a Romantic swoon of timeless dream, especially in the third, Otherworldly, Scherzo movement. Even Schumann adored this work. Kalichstein had proclaimed this trio the greatest trio of all, and so it sounded as their instruments blended with with seamless knitting. The concluding rondo sent the audience into modest delirium.

The structure of this concert was interesting: the first piece looked at the present; the second at the past; the third at the future; the fourth at the Romantic past where great music excelled in a melding of artist with audience, there being no gulf between them, as all are carried by the variations of a melody running like a stream through the rocky valley of life. Yes, it’s a pity that the Romantic style of art has vanished, except when conjured by master musicians.