K-L-R Trio: New music with a familiar strain

Wednesday September 5, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- There's new music. Then there's new music that sounds like old music.

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio brought a new piece, Andre Previn's Piano Trio No. 2, to South Mountain for the season opener Sunday afternoon. It sounded like Shostakovich with a few Broadway licks thrown in.

At 83, Previn continues to write fluent, accessible music. But if Shostakovich has already said something, why say it again unless you can extend Shostakovich's boundaries?

The veteran Previn's work stood between youthful trios by Beethoven and Brahms on the program. Pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson played with energy and feeling but seemed off their form, possibly because of the heat in the hall, which had the men performing in shirtsleeves.

The K-L-R commissioned the 18-minute Previn work for its 35th-anniversary season, 2011-12, and premiered it in New York last May. This was only the second performance but it carried an odd echo besides Shostakovich.

It was only three weeks ago that the Boston Symphony Orchestra premiered "Music for Boston," a 75th-anniversary Tanglewood commission. Lighter in spirit, the kindred BSO piece also started off sounding like Shostakovich but then veered off into movie-like music.


Kalichstein told the South Mountain audience that he and his partners had grown fond of the Previn trio. Fair enough. But its sharp-edged harmonies, driving rhythms and -- until a brief, jumpy finale -- somber postures seemed to hold Shostakovich's piano trios in too close an embrace.

Beethoven's Opus 1, No. 2, one of his earliest trios, and Brahms' Opus 8, his earliest, furnished youthful ballast.

The sometimes sprawling Beethoven work hints at the focus and intensity to come in his later trios such as the "Ghost." The performance was troubled by tuning problems in the violin and piano. Beethoven, a strong pianist himself, assigned the principal role to the piano, but the gaps in tonal connection here gave it an even greater prominence. There was also a feeling of three separate instruments playing instead of an ensemble.


The romantic Brahms trio came together better and had some lovely moments, such as the cello's big solo in the adagio, which Robinson rendered as a virtual love song. The rolling lilt of the finale was also striking. The soaring energy of youth abounded but tended to dominate the undercurrent of yearning that runs though all Brahms -- even a relatively untroubled work like this.

The K-L-R has a long way to go to match the Beaux Arts Trio's 53-year run, which ended in 2008, but it is by now a brand of its own and a South Mountain regular, as was the Beaux Arts.

"Summertime" was a weather-appropriate encore.


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