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The Tryon Concert Association, now celebrating 53 years of continuous operation (since January 1955), was host for a splendid sold-out chamber concert. Perhaps more welcome than the bright sunshine on this afternoon was the end of political dither that took place the previous day just a few miles away in South Carolina. The results generated idle conversation (I think the Yankees won), but clearly the vote was that more music should fill our lives.
To wit: The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Piano Trio (Joseph Kalichstein, piano, Jaime Laredo, violin, and Sharon Robinson, cello) hauled out the big dogs for their program in Tryon’s 345-seat Fine Arts Center. They opened with Haydn's Trio in F-sharp minor, Hob:XV/27, a late work that bumps up against the early works of Beethoven. Composed in 1794, it is filled with adventure and occasional surprises. In fact, this reading hinted at Mozart while modulating to some new center, though Kalichstein said later that a main theme from this work appeared in Beethoven’s early quartets. It's very much a bridge piece, in three movements. These musicians dove into the work as though sewn together, each relishing the path ahead. Their playing was characterized by spot-on intonation and very stylish ensemble. It wasn't too flashy, but it is clear they’ve been around the block with it a few times.
Next was the Trio for Piano, Violin, and Cello in A minor of Maurice Ravel (heads nodding). This piece was started in 1913 just as the war broke out, so it is easy to hear occasional anguish from Ravel’s pen. It is in four movements. Ravel opens with a slow and lyrical Modéré featuring a Basque folk dance theme. The following "Pantoum: Assez vif" was heavy on the vif and revealed the musicians to be quite comfortable playing at high velocities. A "Passacaille: Très large," with ten variations, opened with a long and low eight-bar figure in the piano that was handed around several times for everyone to enjoy. The attaca "Final: Anime" was busy chasing themes and changing meter between 5/4 and 7/4 (I think) and quite often reminded me of Stravinsky only without the rhythmic bite. Again, there was first-rate playing all around.
After intermission came the lone work of this half, the Piano Trio in A Minor, Op. 50, by Tchaikovsky. The length of this two movement work – actually three if you count the last variation and the funeral march that follows as distinct – puts us in Mahler territory. You’ve sat through a Mahler symphony, yes? Well, this Trio is so long that even the composer knew well enough to indicate in the score, “this variation may be omitted”; if left to run as scored, the ending would have occurred well past sunset. I’m joking, but you get the idea. At the same time you should know this Trio and the Third String Quartet are what were performed for Tchaikovsky’s funeral.
The first movement (Pezzo Elegiaco – Moderato assai – Allegro Giusto) commands the high ground of aural imagery. There are three distinct themes, each developed in turn. The second movement is labeled "Tema Con Variazioni: Andante con moto" and includes a nearly independent "Variazioni Finale e coda" at the end with a funeral march as conclusion. The demanding piano part, academic forms used in the variations, and concluding funeral march are all tributes to Nikolai Rubinstein, the Director of the Moscow Conservatory, who was responsible for many Tchaikovsky premieres.
The grand scale — symphonic, really — and signature themes used throughout this work invite repeated hearings if for no other reason than to enjoy the feast at hand. Kalichstein, Laredo, and Robinson brought their "A Game" and satisfied both themselves and the capacity audience with clear interpretations, shimmering style, and intelligent playing. The audience cheered.
The encore was George Gershwin’s “Summertime,” which caught me out a bit. I wasn’t ready for that after the program’s dour ending – in January – in the cold – from a piano trio. Yet the arrangement was very satisfying and of course the tune is welcome. However, the reading didn’t have enough elasticity to convey the bluesy heat we’ve come to expect from a lazy piano solo. You know, some rhythms were a little too strict.
No matter. Great program, great playing, wonderful hosts and a classy reception, too!
Oh, call early in the year if you want tickets. The series sells out by August nearly every year.