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Toil and Trouble

New York
92nd Street Y
10/16/2001 -  
Ludwig van Beethoven: Trio # 4
Stanley Silverman: In Celebration
Robert Schumann: Piano Quintet

Jaime Laredo and Daniel Phillips (violins)
Steven Tenenbom (viola)
Sharon Robinson (cello)
Joseph Kalichstein (piano)

The name of Shakespeare looked down last night from its inlaid panel in the rafters of the main auditorium at the 92nd Street Y and seemed most appropriate to the atmosphere surrounding the first concert of the season featuring the fabulous KLR trio. Many composers have tackled the bard over the centuries, but perhaps the most interesting fodder for speculation are the many unsuccessful attempts to translate his poetry into music, a feat at least as difficult as the Pathetic Fallacy of trying to write about the experience of great auditory compositions employing the woefully lacking medium of language. Lear was a favorite failed subject, Berlioz, Debussy and even Wagner attempting to memorialize him in opera. In fact, Wotan’s incarnation as the Wanderer is modeled on the suffering king and was reinforced during its process of creation by dreams that the composer experienced wherein he was himself Lear cast out on the heath. Beethoven’s bete noir was Macbeth and today all that survives of that ill-fated project are the sketches which led to the ”Ghost” trio. I had the pleasure of hearing these wonderful artists perform this piece at Mostly Mozart this summer; this reading was appreciably different. There was a good deal of hesitancy of execution, particularly in normally rock-solid Joseph Kalichstein (opening night jitters?-one wouldn’t think so after 25 consecutive years at the same venue). However, the performance was still notable for its intense dramatic tension and doleful feel.

The fair maiden between two giants turned out to be rather a strumpet as Stanley Silverman’s piece was little more than a daisy chain of fatuous melodies from the fifties. As I am naturally filled with the milk of human kindness, I was willing to let this ball of fluff pass by unscathed until the lack of applause after the music was over confirmed my worst fears that this was only the end of the first movement! Much sound, little fury, signifying nothing, the seemingly interminable work turned out to have been composed by a horrid man seated in front of me who had talked annoyingly to his companion during the Beethoven.

My Bubby used to warn me not to praise a thing too ardently, for this was bound to cause its eventual deterioration (what is known in Yiddish as a “kayneh hora”). My very last review of KLR stated that they were one of the very few groups who consistently delivered a high quality level of performance and I would have thought that such sloppiness as was evident last evening would not have occurred until Birnam Wood had come to Dunsinane. The schtick this year for the trio is to invite members of four of New York’s most famous string quartets to join them as guests. The artists on loan from the Orion blended seamlessly with the core group, however the proceedings were again marred by the flubs of the pianist, who is, after all, the driver of every chamber work of Schumann and Brahms. Even Ms. Robinson was off her game in the quintet (complete with Mr. Silverman’s spoken obbligato), her renowned ability to spin a lengthy melodic line compromised by fitful phrasing decisions. It was a bit painful to observe these poor players strutting and fretting their hour upon the stage when I know that they are each capable of so much more. But everyone is entitled to an off night and I, for one, am already forgetting this experience and remembering rather exceptional concerts of past seasons. What’s done is done.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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