30 Years Later, Trio Shows Its Enduring Qualities

By Daniel Ginsberg
Special to The Washington Post
Tuesday, January 23, 2007

At its core, making chamber music is about impromptu gatherings and quick partings. So when a professional ensemble stays together for a few years, let alone several decades, it is something to celebrate.

On Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater, the estimable Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio gave a colorful concert to mark its 30th anniversary. The evening was pure KLR (yes, the group has a long enough name and history to go by an acronym). Hearty doses of Beethoven and Brahms bookended a new work from American composer Richard Danielpour. At every turn were the full sound, intense expression and common purpose that have helped the group endure.

KLR will perform Beethoven's piano trios in a multi-evening celebration in its New York home later this year, yet Washington was an apposite setting for this more modest affair. The ensemble made its official debut in the District on the exact date three decades ago, playing at Jimmy Carter's inauguration, and it has kept close ties with the city since then. For the past decade, pianist Joseph Kalichstein has directed the Kennedy Center's Fortas Chamber Music Series, which presented the Sunday concert.

The trio members used their deep experience to bring out the full contours of Beethoven's Piano Trio No. 2, Op. 1, which, unlike the taut arguments of the other two trios in the composer's stunning first opus, breathes with an amiable ebb and flow and courtly grandeur. Wearing its charms on the sleeve, the music bursts forth with masterly craftsmanship and poetic depth that to this day announce the arrival of a major artist.

In the opening, violinist Jamie Laredo's sweetly pure tone matched well with the warm pulse from the cello of his wife and musical partner, Sharon Robinson. Touching melodies went from player to player in the slow second movement, while the Scherzo was rollicking, spritzed with ambling and more sprightly sequences. The finale danced with insouciance, as Kalichstein launched rippling themes down the keyboard.

Violist Kirsten Johnson joined the musicians to give the Washington premiere of Danielpour's attractive new piano quartet, "The Book of Hours." Danielpour's compositions take flight on extra-musical notions, and this work deals with life's inevitable arc from birth to death with depictions in four movements of dawn, daily bustle, evening leisure and night's darkness.

If the 24 hours of the day did not make for the most original metaphor for the circle of life, and if the effects sometimes came off predictably (sunrise is a climbing theme out of murkiness, while nighttime is jazzy romp), Danielpour conjures up music of strength and allure, particularly some bewitching melodies and translucent harmonies, which the trio gave feeling and nuance.

One of the trio's signature works, Brahms's Piano Trio No. 1, Op. 8, closed out the program with tuneful effusions and symphonic colors. The trio took a slow tempo that put details and those poignant extended lines in high relief. If syrupy at points, each movement nonetheless emerged with grace and polish, while the finale was a colossal swell of sound.

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