Review: Beethoven played by the Kalichstein, Laredo, Robinson Trio at the Wigmore Hall

09.19.08
Joseph Kalichstein
The Telegraph

Ivan Hewett relaxes into the unflamboyant virtues of a distinguished American trio

When I heard that this distinguished American trio was going to give us all seven of Beethoven's piano trios across three concerts, I was all agog to hear them.

Complete cycles of the trios are not so common, and, though they don't offer quite the epic journey of the 32 piano sonatas or 18 string quartets, they still give a tremendous bird's-eye view of Beethoven's evolution, from the flamboyantly gifted young man of the 1790s to the visionary who wrote the final Archduke Trio in 1811.

This trio has been living with these wonderful works for three decades, and their performances have a relaxed, unfussy quality which allows the music to breathe.

This is not one of the those groups that points up Beethoven's roots in Haydn, in an effort to get away from the cliché of "Beethoven the revolutionary"; but nor do they play up his blood-and-thunder aspect.

The keynote was a genial spaciousness that pulled the terse and witty early works into the orbit of the later, more epic pieces.

Sometimes, I could have done with a bit more blood and thunder. The middle movement of the Ghost Trio lacked the existential terror it ought to have, and the lovely waltzing Allegretto of the E flat Trio was a bit too relaxed.

But, as the concerts progressed, the trio's approach worked better, though whether that was because they were playing better as they got used to the hall, or I was learning to appreciate their unflamboyant virtues, is hard to say.

The cellist Sharon Robinson was the most reticent of the three, and I often found myself wishing she'd let go a little. Pianist Joseph Kalichstein had an impressive range of colour, which allowed him to be assertive without being heavy (though when Beethoven's gruff humour needed a deliberately over-heavy tone he could do that, too).

Most purely pleasurable to listen to was the violinist Jaime Laredo. He had an almost careless ease that reminded me of violinists of an earlier generation like Oscar Shumsky.

Given that this trio is best attuned to the epic breadth of Beethoven, it was only natural that their best performance came with the biggest of the trios, the Archduke.

But it wasn't just the music's vast scale they registered; they were also attuned to its uncanny visionary quality, the tenderness of its middle movement, and the rumbustious good humour of the finale.