At the margins of the chamber music repertory are a few esoteric pieces, rarely heard because they call for strange combinations of instruments. One such work, Ernest Chausson’s Concerto in D for Piano, Violin and String Quartet, was the climax of a performance featuring the Shanghai String Quartet on Wednesday evening in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. It’s the sort of programming that the Fortas Chamber Music Concerts series, representing a niche within a niche, should be doing.
Pianist Joseph Kalichstein and violinist Jaime Laredo, members of the Fortas resident chamber ensemble trio, opened the concert with an expressively shaped rendition of Beethoven’s “Spring” Sonata for Violin and Piano, Op. 24. The slow movement, in particular, was a highlight, with some cautious tempos and less than crystalline runs in the other movements.
The Shanghai Quartet excelled in its performance of Ravel’s String Quartet in F, transparent of tone and turning on a dime. No player dominated the ensemble, so all could be heard. The pizzicato sound in the second movement was clear and pretty, and the moody third movement featured a striking palette of colors, from wispy watercolor to dense sfumato.
For all of the interest in hearing the Chausson “Concert” live, there is no getting around that it’s an odd bird. In its best moments it is essentially a violin sonata with string quartet trappings, and Laredo brought an intense, solo-strong, yet warm sound to its long melodies, especially plangent in the tragic slow movement. The Shanghai Quartet played its part well, although the striving for larger and larger sounds in the finale brought the ensemble too quickly to its fullest dynamic, leaving no room for the movement’s climax without stridency.
Downey is a freelance writer.