This afternoon the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio performed a concert at Manhattan’s Town Hall under the auspices of Peoples’ Symphony Concerts. This group has performed frequently at PSC, and their return is always welcome. Since the retirement of the Beaux Arts Trio, they are probably the preeminent piano trio currently performing.
I was a bit put off prospectively by the conservatism of their program. This program could have been given over 120 years ago: Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations, Op. 121a, Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 87, and Tchaikovsky’s Piano Trio, Op. 50. On the other hand, this group brings together three masters of their instruments who really know how to play the “classics” with panache.
I’ve always been bored by Beethoven’s Kakadu Variations. This performance, while more than merely proficient, didn’t get me any more excited about the piece. The Brahms was fluent and energetic, about what I would expect from these performers. Satisfying without being extraordinary.
But the Tchaikovsky was something else again. I have long thought that this piece was among the composer’s least successful. It is in two long movements. The first, “Pezzo elegiac,” has always struck me as awfully repetitious, over-extended, and not as inspired as, for example, his first string quartet. The second, a theme & variations with an extended coda, just seems to go on and on. Tchaikovsky was not a great writer of variations, and many of them have struck me in the past as quite ordinary.
I have to say that all my preconceptions based on past hearings of the piece went out the window with today’s performance. All three musicians seemed to really love this piece, and they were totally on fire this afternoon! It was gripping. Although I still felt the piece was overextended in both movements, I found that I didn’t really care because I was enjoying their passionate engagement with the music so much. I wanted it to keep going on!
These folks have been around a long time. One of the first LP’s I bought as a teenager was Jaime Laredo’s debut concerto recording for RCA of Bach’s 1st Violin Concerto (with Munch and the Boston Symphony strings) and Mozart’s 3rd Violin Concerto (with Howard Mitchell and the Washington National Symphony). And when I bought it, it was already a budget reissue. Another early LP acquisition was a Kalichstein recital on Vanguard’s mid-price Cardinal label. Old-time record collectors from the 1960’s may remember these recordings. One might think that these senior folks would provide slow, laid-back performances. But nothing of the sort. Bright tempi, passionate engagement, real vigor marked this afternoon’s concert. Great going, guys!! Thanks for bringing them back this year, PSC!