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A Major and A Minor Triumph

New York
92nd Street Y
12/18/2001 -  
Ellen Taaffe Zwilich:Trio
Maurice Ravel Trio in A Minor
Antonin Dvorak: Piano Quintet in A Major

Jaime Laredo and Philip Setzer (violins)
Lawrence Dutton (viola)
Sharon Robinson (cello)
Joseph Kalichstein (piano)

As a colorist, Maurice Ravel was the equal of the greatest orchestrators in history, matching Hector Berlioz and Nicolai Rimsky-Korsakoff in his abilities to express the profoundest shades in tones, his arrangements of his own piano works Le Tombeau de Couperin and Miroirs as well as Mussourgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for full instrumental ensemble as rich and inventive as any in the entire literature. However, when the medium was the much more difficult and restrictive milieu of chamber music, the diminutive Basque was unchallenged in his variegated mastery (Berlioz wrote no pieces for chamber ensemble and Rimsky only student works). In fact, Ravel was the very embodiment of Wordsworth’s aesthetic ideal in the poem “Nuns Fret Not”, the most inspired composer since Bach in dealing with seemingly insoluble problems of musical claustrophobia (and old Johann never even indicated his instrumental preferences). It is absolutely astounding how sensitive a spectrum is exhibited in his two major compositions for small groups, the String Quartet and the present Piano Trio.

In the proper hands, this poem for the preferred choice of ensemble from Haydn on is as expertly painted as the most complex of Ravel’s copies of Hartman’s canvasses. And no trio performs it better than the magnificent KLR, who continue to dazzle in their silver anniversary. Jaime Laredo alone wielded an entire palette of impressive effects, matched stroke for stroke by his longtime mates. Not only was this reading extremely tight, each phrase enunciated by the three as one, but the array of subtleties was positively overwhelming. This gorgeous music-making followed a revelatory reading of the Zwilich, a piece which I had foolishly thought that I had heard before, but this version convinced me that the renditions I had encountered in the past were but pale shadows of her intelligent musical thought.

If color is the overriding characteristic of the Ravel, then élan vital is that of the Dvorak. Once again, these protean troubadors projected just the right reading of the piece, this time a much looser and relaxed version befitting the rustic optimism of both the work and its composer. Sharon Robinson’s opening cello solo alone was worth the price of admission and the two added artists, freed from the bonds of the Emerson Quartet, reveled in an uncharacteristic but joyous vibrato. The insistent inner rhythms of the viola and cello in movement two were infectious and unexpected, although sometimes this emphasis on the furious aspects of the czardas led to errors of enthusiasm, particularly at the keyboard. But the spirit was so infectious that none of us really cared if the presentation was a bit informal. KLR’s internal precision and external expansiveness always carries the day, the entire experience approaching the chamber ideal: an evening of the highest art in the most domestic of settings.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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