By guest reviewer Bob Kingston
Over the past 30 years, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio—pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo, and cellist Sharon Robinson—has established a reputation as one of this country’s premiere chamber music ensembles. The group was in Portland on November 24th and 25th as part of the Friends of Chamber Music Classic Series. Overall, there was some very fine music making on Tuesday evening’s concert, though this was offset by an occasional missed opportunity.
The program on November 25th opened with Beethoven’s single-movement Allegretto in B flat (WoO 39), a carefree little amuse-bouche written in 1812 for the ten-year-old daughter of the composer’s friends, Franz and Antoine Brentano. (In 1977, the scholar Maynard Solomon suggested that Antoine was very likely the intended recipient of the famous letter to the “Immortal Beloved,” penned just a few weeks after Beethoven completed the Allegretto.) There’s really not much to say about the piece itself, other than that to acknowledge that it made up in charm and grace what it lacked in overall musical interest.
The remainder of the first half was devoted to Shostakovich’s bleak Trio in E minor, written during the height of the Second World War and dedicated to the memory of the music critic and intellectual Ivan Sollertinsky, who had died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of forty-one. This is an extremely powerful work, one that demands a level of full-focused intensity that seemed to elude the performers in the first movement. The second movement was taken at an absurdly fast tempo, and as a result, much of the interplay between the strings and keyboard was frequently lost. The third movement, on the other hand, brought out some very fine playing, especially from Robinson, and all three musicians acquitted themselves admirably in the fiendishly difficult finale.
In contrast to the Shostakovich, the performers offered a much more successful reading of Schubert’s massive Trio in E-flat major. Balances were, for the most part, carefully maintained, though there were a few instances of overplaying in the first movement. Robinson and Laredo rose to the challenges Schubert laid out for their instruments in the lovely second movement, and the blend between them was as good as one could imagine. Notable, too, were the subtle shadings of color and rhythm in the finale.
Bob Kingston is a Portland-based writer and musicologist.
Extra Note from James Bash: The WoO designation for the Beethoven piece caused me to open "The Penguin Guide to Classical Music." Author Paul Griiffiths states that WoO is an "Abbreviation for Werk ohne Opuszahl (work without opus number), used in catalogues of music by composers who normally used opus numbers, such as Beethoven and Schumann."