Alice Tully Hall
Ludwig van Beethoven: Variations, Op. 121a; Piano Trios Opp. 70,No.1 and 97
Joseph Kalichstein (piano)
Jaime Laredo (violin)
Sharon Robinson (cello)
Sitting by the fountain on the Lincoln Center plaza this lovely Sunday afternoon, anticipating another in the series of this season’s Mostly Mozart events, my companion noted that the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson trio was one of the very few groups of performers with whom one can always feel confidant of an excellent concert experience. I mused on this for a while and discovered that I could only think of two orchestras and three or four solo performers who fall into this category (although there are some others who exhibit a remarkable consistency in giving bad performances). KLR has much more local fame than national or international and I am not sure why, considering their insightful and masterful readings of the classics which literally date back to the inauguration of Jimmy Carter. But those of us in the know consider this familial group as a civic treasure.
I recently devoted a KLR review to Sharon Robinson and so this time I will concentrate on Kalichstein. What is most remarkable in this highly competent pianist is his incredibly light touch, the gentlest of the current crop of ivory ticklers and, at the same time, one of the most powerful. His is also a commanding musical presence, exhibited this day in his playful interpretation of the ”Kakadu” variations and, even more impressively, in his spectral farewells in the ”Ghost”. This Joseph K. is at one with his complex environment, leading the listener through the labyrinthine passages of his beloved art with the confidence and rapture of a Beatrice. Given a chance to parade his prodigious talent center stage, he blew me away with the contrast of bombastic chordal passages and exquisite quietude in the second movement of the ”Archduke” (it was apparently nickname day).
The other unmistakable characteristic of KLR is their precise unity. These people even breathe at the same time, a quality that takes years to instill even in the most accomplished wind ensembles. Mr. Laredo and Ms. Robinson are husband and wife and Mr. Kalichstein is obviously their dearest and closest confidante. Performing the opening of the ”Ghost” with alarming alacrity, their oneness served them in good stead. The middle movement, a recycling of Beethoven’s sketches of a reworking of Macbeth, was suitably chilling, calling to mind that great line of that great critic Robert Schumann (writing about a Schubert piano sonata) that “…one could feel the cold wind of the grave…” in their performance. I was most moved by the slow movement of the ”Archduke”, each repetition of those thoughtful figures more viscerally exciting than the last. I closed my eyes during this passage and truly felt transported. The interpretation as a whole fit Beethoven’s most stirring essay on the nature of grandeur and even a dollop of uncharacteristic sloppiness didn’t mar the portrait.
After so much greatness, what can you present as an encore? Considering the venue, only an ethereal work by the deified Wolfgang would do. An inspired choice was the slow movement of the Piano Trio K. 502, one of those Minerva-like inspirations which sprung from the savant’s head and heart fully formed. The KLR reading was of such a pure beauty as to remind of the jealousy of Salieri in the film Amadeus: it is quite simply impossible to fathom how a human being could fashion such an artistic moment. With interpreters like KLR, we can all share in this glorious incomprehensibility.
Frederick L. Kirshnit