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Monday 20 May 2013

Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio at the Wigmore Hall


I have the Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio's recording of the Brahms trios which is amazingly now almost 30 years old - this group have had a 36 year career together without a change in personnel. And it shows - fine as that recording is, this performance of the Brahms op.8 trio was even stronger in my opinion. Laredo and Robinson's approach to string playing are amongst the best matched I've ever heard in a piano trio. Both make judicious use of portamento, have a superb sense of legato, and the vibrato is a joy - starting at the beginning of every note rather than the bulgy straight tone followed by a burst of vibrato that has become so acceptable today. The fluidity, stylish ease, burnished sound, and unshowy yet exceptionally accurate and profound musicianship of all three players makes them blend in an almost uncanny manner, greater than the sum of its considerable parts - we're hearing not just great players or a great piano trio, but great music making. The partnership of Isaac Stern and Leonard Rose is brought to mind, and in fact Robinson sounds much like that American cello master (Laredo is warmer than Stern). Indeed, there's so much colour and nuance, that it almost always feels like more than just three musicians are playing - so overwhelmingly sonorous and beautiful was the first movement. It's performances like this that make one realise how unwarranted the common nagging fear of Brahms is - the stolid sobriety, heaviness, brownness and seriousness that his name conjures in the mind's eye is revealed to be a myth perpetrated by bad performances - here his youthful vigour, radiant suppleness, surpassing warmth and generosity shone through, sweeping aside all reservations one might have had. I still think the last movement of the trio is a little routine after the first three movements, but this was a very special performance.

I had really chosen to attend the performance for the Previn Piano Trio No.2 (2011), this being it's UK première. I have a real soft spot for Previn's music, and I guess one might classify it as a guilty pleasure - I'm sure my musical friends of an intellectual bent would be appalled at his sub easy Walton/Jazz/Hindemith/Shostakovich/Britten style, but the cello sonata (1994), four songs with texts by Toni Morrison (1994), Vocalise (1995), Sallie Chisum Remembers Billy the Kid (1995), opera A Streetcar Named Desire (1998), Tango, Song and Dance for Violin (1998), and Dickinson Songs (1999) all are favourites of mine. I've been less impressed with the works of the last decade or so - a second opera (Close Encounter) proved to be a rather tawdry affair, and there have also been several concertos for Anne-Sophie Mutter, each one blander than the last. The magic number for soprano and orchestra (1997) and the String quartet with soprano (2003) do pique me and I would very much like to hear them. I'll talk about his music in greater depth when I review the DVD of his opera A Streetcar Named Desire (hopefully quite soon), but suffice it to say, this Second Piano Trio is in line with my impressions of his recent pieces - all of Previn's fingerprints are there, but there's a feeling of production line, "wrist excercises" as Strauss would say, the harmony drabber, melodies dulled, textures murkier than all those beautiful works from the 1990s - sometimes it seems any old fragment will do as the basis for a melody, and that his heart's not really in it. The Kalichstein/Laredo/Robinson Trio are ideally suited to playing it - they have the measure of its slightly schmaltzy lilt, and really give it the best outing possible, but the passing niceties are not enough to sustain the fundamental lack of inspiration.

Something about the BBC broadcast doesn't capture the plushness of their sound unfortunately so I can't really recommend that you "listen again" on iplayer - it seems you had to be there.

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