Saturday, April 09, 2011

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio. April 7, 2011.

92nd Street Y, Theresa L. Laufmann Concert Hall, Orchestra (Seat H103, $5.)

Trio: Joseph Kalichstein, piano; Jaime Laredo, violin; Sharon Robinson, cello.
Pamela Frank, violin
Cynthia Phelps, viola
Liang Wang, oboe

Three Romances for Violin and Piano, Op. 22 (1853) by Clara Schumann (1819-1896).
-- Andante molto
-- Allegretto: Mit zarten Vortrage
-- Leidenschaftlich schnell

Variations for Piano on a Theme of R. Schumann, Op. 9 (1854) by Brahms (1833-1897).
Romances for Oboe and Piano, Op. 94 (1849) by Robert Schumann (1810-1856).
-- Nicht schnell
-- Einfach, inning
-- Nicht schell

Quintet for Piano and Strings in E-flat major, Op. 44 (1842) by R. Schumann.

There is no misprint on the cost of this concert, $5. I first found out about this group when I was reading through the program at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory, this group is scheduled to perform there later this month. Within a day or so I got this email from Goldstar which offered tickets for a processing fee of $5, so I grabbed it. Since I was planning to buy tickets for the June 2 Leon Fleisher concert at the Y anyway, I thought I would go also. Because of her commitment to teach an ESL class at the Sayreville Library, Anne couldn’t go.

The auditorium is reasonably respectable, with a sign saying “occupancy by more than 922 people is dangerous” giving an indication of its capacity (there is also a balcony level). I was also surprised at how few people were at this concert. I would say the orchestra level was less than half full, but they managed to get a lot of students to come and they were lining up for the balcony seats.

The size of the audience, however, has no bearing on the quality of the concert. This is one of the more enjoyable concerts I have attended, and got better as the afternoon progressed.

The program is pretty much an all Schumann affair, with works by Robert and Clara Schumann. The Brahms piece was written after Robert’s early 1854 suicide attempt, and incorporates one of Clara Schuman’s theme in one of the variations. The program says Brahms wrote it as a tribute to his mentor, a token of Brahms’ affection for Clara, and the work was an early manifestation of Brahms’ fondness of the variation.

I had never heard anything by Clara Schumann before. The three violin romances did not break any new musical grounds for me (nor for the genre, I imagine), but they are really pleasant pieces. The program notes calls them “charming, if lightweight.” Indeed the pieces, totaling a little over 10 minutes, sounded warm, but tinged with sadness.

It is probably difficult not to try to count the number of variations when it is being performed. And it is not easy. In any case, I counted 20, but it could be fewer than that. According to the Program Notes, there are several quotes from Robert and Clara’s works. While there is familiarity, I can’t claim I caught them.

Liang Wang is the principal oboist at the New York Philharmonic. Here he performed three relatively simple romances by Schumann. The sound was beautiful, and the romances contain a trove of melodies, many of which sounded melancholic. The audience was very appreciative of the performance.

Cynthia Phelps is the principal violist of the New York Philharmonic, and Pamela Frank is a very well-known violinist (whom I had never seen in concert). I was especially surprised to see Frank playing second fiddle in the quintet. I have stated many times most string quartets sound like a violin piece with accompaniment by three other string instruments. Our ears find it easier to catch the higher pitch of the first violin; and indeed many compositions put the melody in that instrument. Not so with this one. The parts (including the piano) are well-balanced, with different instruments taking the lead at different times. Frank actually seemed to enjoy the role very much, beaming all the time, and looking at her fellow players a lot. Having said that, the viola still sounded weak. The cello also could sound a little louder.

I enjoy Schubert’s Trout Quintet a lot (turns out Frank is also the violinist in the CD I have) – who wouldn’t – and I have to rank this one up there. I am embarrassed to say this is the first time I ever heard it. For the record, the movements are: (i) Allegro brillante; (ii) In modo d’una marcia: Un poco largamente – Agitato; (iii) Scherzo: Molto vivace; and (iv) Allegro ma non troppo.

Sometimes enjoyable things in life is free, or almost free. I am glad I came to this concert, and would have gladly paid full price for the seat.

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