The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio appeared Sunday at South Mountain Concerts, in Pittsfield, Mass. On the program were trios by Beethoven, Previn, and Brahms. The near-capacity audience enjoyed a lovely afternoon’s entertainment filled with excitement, passion, and even some novelty too.
In 1916, Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge purchased South Mountain for her only child, Albert – because as a boy he had dreamed of owning a mountain. On this mountain she built her summer home and studio; in addition to being a formidable patron of American chamber music through the first half of the 20th century (dubbed “the fairy godmother of music” by W. W. Cobbett), Elizabeth Sprague Coolidge was herself an accomplished pianist and composer. On the mountain, she also built the “Temple of Music,” the current concert hall for South Mountain Concerts. Now on the National Register of Historic Buildings, this structure is somewhat in Colonial Revival Style and built from timbers taken from an old textile mill. When I read that last detail, I could hear my grandmother’s voice, “All that old wood must sound nice!” Truer words… This hall, built especially for chamber music, seats around 500, and the acoustics are fabulous. Beginning in 1918, it has been the home of chamber music festivals. Currently, the season encompasses five Sunday afternoon concerts in September and October, attracting dedicated music lovers for top-notch ensembles.
On a bright and sunny Sunday, the temperature warm but the crisp air hinting at the changing of the seasons, I drove up South Mountain, first on pavement, then on a gravel road to a leveled field serving as a parking lot. A short walk up brought me to the concert hall, sitting on a ledge overlooking a slightly rolling field. Inside, soaring space and arched roof worthy of a New England congregational church (replete with central, windowed cupola), the sides unfinished (think Maine summer cabin), and windows running the length of both sides, admitting the idyllic view. The terrain did not deter the audience; the performers on offer helped, too. For all that, South Mountain Concerts are not as widely known, at least to Boston audiences, as Tanglewood, just down the road. I can’t help but wonder why — the smaller venue? a less accessible spot? less interest in chamber music than in orchestral repertoire (although if true, surely this is reversing with the recent proliferation of chamber groups)? Whatever the reason, Bostonians should be more aware of these unforgettable gatherings.
The concert opened with Ludwig van Beethoven’s Trio in G, op. 1, No. 2, described in the notes as “perhaps the least known of all Beethoven’s trios.” Haydn’s influence is obvious here, but so is Beethoven’s distinctive voice. The Adagio opens on a pronounced and definite note, then the music takes a viaggio before settling into its tonic key. Along the way, each player has a moment to shine. A pulse, a caress, a rumination in the cello, then comes the Allegro vivace. Throughout, Kalichstein, Laredo, and Robinson invested this music with the sense of both a journey and a quest, delicate and rich, timid and staunch, yearning and possessive, even subtle playfulness. With a full range of expression and dynamics, the music announces a development from the Classicism of Beethoven’s teacher. The Largo con espressione began with a sweet piano solo recalling a Berceuse, before an ascending cello line added vibrancy to the touchingly tender theme opening this movement. The Scherzo danced, as so often in Beethoven, here at a lively tempo (faster than some other performances, yet without feeling rushed or harried), but had an arch tone hinting at classical reserve with wit and irony. The final Presto was scampering and playful, sounding very much like a precursor to Rossini (especially his youthful “string symphonies,” in truth sonate a quatro from 1804). Although indebted to Haydn, Beethoven’s Trio shows greater independence between the three voices, more prominence of the cello line than often heard in Haydn, and a larger sense of drama. The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio brought to this performance (and the entire concert) the seamlessly-knit ensemble playing that comes from 35 years of shared performance history. They are worthy champions of this Beethoven Trio, which really should be better known.
Following a short pause, the performers presented Andre Previn’s Trio No. 2 for Piano, Violin, and Cello (2012). Joseph Kalichstein, in a paean to Andre Previn’s protean talents, made a few introductory remarks about this composition (which they were performing for the second time). To paraphrase his introduction, this composition is Broadway meeting Shostakovich in Brazil. The manifold influences were audible, and the broad range of musical tastes sampled came together as a single, vibrant and idiosyncratic composition. In Tempo I, I was struck by the surprisingly subdued role for piano and the rich sampling of tonal colors and musical styles in the cello line. The middle movement marked “Slowly,” was marked by an exuberant yet restrained jazziness and brought to mind the music of Darius Milhaud. The finale, “Fast,” opened on a skittering syncopation ending in a run up, and off. All three performers gave a spirited reading of this work. I would like to hear Previn’s composition again and study the score; on first hearing I found the music pleasing, and also subtle yet varied and rich. I think it is music that would repay greater familiarity.
After intermission (and a piano tuning touch-up), the musicians returned to the stage for Johannes Brahms’s Trio in B, op. 8 (1853-54, revised version published 1891). In this early work, Brahms’s love affair with the cello is already obvious. The Allegro con brio opened with Romantic intensity, and a three-part play of dynamics, phrasing, and articulation as Kalichstein, Laredo, and Robinson brought their considerable talents and insights to bear on this work. The Scherzo galloped, recalling a Tarantella, while also being full of pathos and longing. I’ve not compared the two versions of the Scherzo, although it is said to have been hardly touched in the revision; it put me in mind of Tchaikovsky, and led me to ponder the connections (turbulent and opinionated, at least on the Russian side) between these two Romantic giants. A beautiful, blossoming conclusion to the Scherzo led into the Adagio, the earlier theme now returning in a slower, more autumnal form. The concluding Allegro opened with a sense of strong turbulence before the whole came to a satisfying close.
We were treated to an encore, one prefaced with a wholly unnecessary apology on the part of Jaime Laredo: Andy Stein’s arrangement of Gershwin’s “Summertime.” The music was played to perfection, and the choice aptly captured the ambience and experience of the concert as a whole.
Cashman Kerr Prince is trained in Classics and Comparative Literature and is now a Visiting Scholar in the Department of Classical Studies at Wellesley College. He is also a cellist of some accomplishment, currently playing with the Brookline Symphony Orchestra.