KLR Trio shows versatility, cohesion in wide-ranging program

February 24, 2013 at 10:54 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

The Kalichstein Laredo Robinson Trio performed Sunday at Jordan Hall for the Celebrity Series.

When musicians play together for more than three decades, they become so close that they can practically finish each others’ thoughts. That was easy to hear at the Celebrity Series concert in Jordan Hall Sunday afternoon when the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio rendered a challenging program of chamber music with poise and polish.

The celebrated ensemble led with a graceful reading of Mozart’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, K. 502. Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo, and cellist Sharon Robinson approached the first movement with sweetness and chiseled phrasing. Shapely duets for violin and piano dominate the Larghetto second movement. Here, Laredo played with a lovely singing tone. Kalichstein answered with a light touch but round, full sound, and Robinson supplied smooth obbligato lines. The musicians ended the charming performance of this trio with a colorful and richly dynamic finale.

André Previn’s Piano Trio No. 2, heard in its Boston premiere, showcased more of the ensemble’s versatility. Co-commissioned by the KLR Trio and the Celebrity Series, the three-movement work is a curious and accessible mix of musical styles and moods. Describing the 20-minute trio, Kalichstein noted that “Previn writes about himself, about wonderful tunes, Shostakovich darkness, and wit.” The opening movement contains all of these elements. Previn’s melodies hint at the popular songs of Tin Pan Alley, but the music quickly turns dark, gathering tension through diatonic and chromatic dissonance. The musicians performed with snap precision and lyricism.

The somber second movement opened with Robinson’s cello in a mournful cantabile phrase, which Laredo answered in counterpoint. As the texture grew increasingly thinner, Robinson and Laredo traded falling motives with lullaby-like charm while Kalichstein accompanied with soft rippling chords. As the movement concluded, Previn’s music became increasingly chromatic, even coldly distant. Through it all, KLR effectively handled the emotional restraint without losing focus.

Previn’s wit was on display in the brief, jazzy finale where his music assumed a hard-driving style—a mix of Gershwin’s rhythm and Bartok’s dense harmony. Syncopated chords seem to pop out at random in the churning cascade of sixteenth notes, all of which KLR handled deftly.

The ensemble saved the best for last with an impassioned performance of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio in A minor. Composed in memory of Nikolai Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky’s sole trio is a work of sprawling length and grandeur. It is also a personal reflection on his friend’s death. The elegiac first movement contains keening passages in the strings, which Robinson and Laredo performed with heart-melting feeling. In more energetic spots, the difficult Lisztian bursts in the piano part, which Kalichstein approached with power and clarity, would be equally at home in a concerto.

The second-movement’s variations on a favorite folk song of Rubinstein’s—allegedly a programmatic reflection of moments from his life—comprise a wide range of emotions and styles, from sweeping cello and violin dialogue (variation 4), piano filigree suggestive of a music box (variation 5), and elegant waltz (variation 6), a freely expressive mazurka (variation 10), spinning fugue (variation 8), and symphonic-like splendor (variation 7 and finale). KLR performed all with aplomb.

As a final farewell to Rubinstein, Tchaikovsky concluded the trio with a reprisal of the opening elegy, recast as a funeral dirge, which the musicians approached with an emotional keenness that left the audience breathless and wanting more.

And more they got. After three curtain calls, KLR returned to the stage to offer Any Stein’s tender and graceful arrangement of Gershwin’s Summertime—part jest no doubt—to warm Boston hearts in this winter of discontent.

The next Celebrity Series classical music event will feature violinist Hilary Hahn and pianist Cory Smythe in a program of Faure, Corelli, Bach, and selections from In 27 Pieces: The Hilary Hahn Encores, 8 p.m. Friday March 1 at Jordan Hall. celebrityseries.org; 617-482-6661

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