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96 Strings and a Single Sting

New York
Theresa L. Kaufmann Concert Hall, 92nd Street Y
09/15/2011 -  
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Trio in B-flat major, K. 502
Stanley Silverman: Piano Trio No. 2, "Reveille" (World premiere)
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Trio in B-flat major Op. 97, "Archduke"

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio: Joseph Kalichstein (Piano), Jaime Laredo (Violin), Sharon Robinson (Cello), & Sting

J. Laredo, J. Kalichstein, S. Robinson (© Christian Steiner)

A friend who interviewed the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (KLR Trio) asked how, outside of the marriage of violinist and cellist, the three could stay together after three decades.

“Well,” said Joseph Kalichstein, “We’re still trying to get the music right.”

A coy reply, but after hearing them for over two hours last night, it’s obvious that they are still “trying.” For the Mozart and Beethoven trios played last night, if lacking edginess, had that urging, that volition of three artists attempting perfection. And since perfection is boring, hoping that they never achieve it.

The three works they performed could be called joyous. One looked in vain for tragedy or moping measures. Mozart, writing his B-flat Trio toward the end of his life, was secure in 1788, knowing that Haydn himself had just called him “The greatest composer in the world.” Thus, despite the fable of Mozart’s automatic inspiration, this one actually did seem to flow unhindered, as if a single inspiration was all that was needed.

The KLR Trio played it as conversation. Piano and strings answered each other jovially in the first movement, leading to some more elegiac solos by violinists Laredo and cellist Robinson. The :Larghetto was similar, in an ironic sense, to the later trio by Stanley Silverman.

For the latter, Mr. Silverman used archaic forms in a light-hearted way. The KLR Trio took Mozart’s semi-fugue so lightly one felt that Mozart was having fun with the form, rather than actually composing a real exercise.

The finale had the jauntiness, the dancing deviltry which Mozart so rarely wrote. He was, apparently, quite the foppish dancer when he chose, and the KLR Trio let gave it the rhythmic boost.

Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, despite its regal moniker, has another kind of joy. One hates to say “profound” joy, but the enjoyment of a man who decided to write something so beautiful in itself, that nobody would be able to append some featherbrained story. Some groups try to emphasize the “moving” which Beethoven adds to the Cantabile, but there is little doubt that he wanted this to be relaxed–in a unique sense.

The uniqueness, the way KLR Trio played it, offered an image to me of a Cambridge University room with three philosophers–Bertrand Russell, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper–sharing Sherry, and admiring the world outside. Civilized, not sophistic, lively, never genteel.

KLR took it easily until the opening of the finale. That great chord was virtually a guffaw–the kind of laugh which Beethoven would give after entrancing an audience with a slow movement. The KLR bounced along, happily, felicitously, and with solo playing amongst the finest in the world.

And now to the work which many in the audience wanted. The appearance orf (Ring the Gong, Bang the Drum) Gordon Matthew Thomas Sumner, a.k.a. Sting!!

More important, the eclectic Stanley Silverman, who has written for Pierre Boulez and Elton John, the Shakespeare Globe Theater and the movie Eyewitness. More than an artisan musician, though , he is a master of his craft and frequently his art.

This Second Trio was written for a close friend who had died in the World Trade Center tragedy, but the work, as he explained, was not tragic, for it celebrated philanthropist Herman Sandler’s love of life, not an elegy of death.

Readers of his notes for this seven-movement piece might have been distracted by references to Ives, Dowland, Morley a 17th Century French basse de viol virtuoso, Paul Simon, Fauré and Mahler. But each movement had reflections of the others. It was, in other words, like Shakespeare’s picture of Falstaff, filled with humor, sorrow, a little bluster, and much dancing.

The longest movement by far was the finale on Paul Simon’s song “Just Call Me Al”, the theme of which consists of two notes. (The genius of Simon is that he makes them so memorable.). The KLR Trio had no trouble in playing this with verve, surprise, action, and the most gorgeous cadenzas by all three soloists.

Before that, Mr. Silverman composed a complete solo cello movement (elegance itself, personified by Sharon Robinson), and a plethora of Latin music (some ensuing from a fugue). à la Piazzolla

Sting (©Courtesy of the artist)

Sting appeared for one section, a setting of the Fourth Act dialogue from Cymbeline. Having already made a recording of Elizabethan lute songs, this piece, with its elegance and quiet melody, was not an adventure for him. No falsetto for the former Police singer, simply his endearing , unforced baritone register.

The Second Trio itself was both pleasing and unforced. Sting gave it celebrity value, but both instrumental and vocal qualities are more thoughtful then technically daring.

As for the KLR Trio, Sting complimented all three on being “rock ‘n’ rollers” Others merely have to describe them as ”Kalichstein, Laredo and Robinson.” That should suffice as a synonym for unparalleled excellence.

Harry Rolnick



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