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A Robust Gallic Program With Glimmers of Greatness

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, director of the Kennedy Center Fortas Chamber Music Concerts, put together a bracing program of high-calorie French masterpieces Tuesday evening at the Terrace Theater, with the Miami String Quartet and his regular trio partners, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson.

The youthful Miami Quartet played the Debussy G Minor Quartet with carefully prepared dynamics and transparent textures -- sometimes too transparent. Their range of tone color in this kaleidoscopic work was pleasing but narrow, and many accents slipped by almost apologetically. Moreover, their leader's notion of "expressive" violin playing is to simply slide audibly whenever he changes position, whether the notes in question have particular musical importance or not.

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio has been performing together for three decades and it shows, in ways good and less than good. Robinson still draws a rich, burnished sound, but Laredo has lost a step; his left hand has stiffened somewhat with age, though he can still turn some wonderful phrases. For his part, Kalichstein has become fonder of the damper pedal as passagework is more frequently smudged. But the trio's musicianship and experience still carry the day. Its delivery of Ravel's nightmarishly difficult Piano Trio was totally secure, deeply felt and understood.

Kalichstein and Laredo then joined the quartet for a welcome rarity -- Ernest Chausson's Concert for Piano, Violin and String Quartet, a full-throated, romantic romp for all concerned. Laredo spun gold in the Grave movement, and everyone threw themselves into the piece, emerging dazed and triumphant.

-- Robert Battey

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