Tuesday, February 4, 2014

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio With Nokuthula Ngwenyama at People’s Symphony

Nokuthula Ngwenyama

Once again the good folks at People’s Symphony Concerts (PSC) amaze and astound us with musicians both old and new to the program.  Last Saturday, perennial PSC favorites the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio returned for a concert of Beethoven, Mendelssohn and Dvorak, amply assisted by a stunning Nokuthula Ngwenyama on the viola.  The result was magical.

The Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio debuted at the White House nearly 35 years ago, and they continue to bring technical mastery, expressive depth, and magnetism to the concert stage. Their 30th Anniversary was celebrated at Carnegie Hall, where Richard Danielpour devoted a piano quartet in honor of the anniversary – the piece has since become a part of their extensive repertoire. The Trio is one of today’s most beloved ensembles and these three artists share their passion for music with audiences worldwide.

The Trio – Joseph Kalichstein, piano, Jaime Laredo, violin, Sharon Robinson, cello -- has traveled the globe, including japan, New Zealand and Australia, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Brussels, Copenhagen, Lisbon and Paris, as well as Helsinki, South Bank and Tivoli.  Their most recent CD is of Schubert Piano Trios, released on the Bridge label.

Nokuthula Ngwenyama came to international attention when she won the Primrose International Viola Competition and the Young Concert Artists International Auditions at age 17.  In 1998, she received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant.  She has performed throughout the US and across four continents – and she has recently been featured as a Face to Watch by the Los Angeles Times.

With a wealth of talent such as this, it is no surprise that last Saturday’s concert was one to remember.  The concert opened with Trio in B-flat major, Op. 11 (1798) by Ludwig Van Beethoven (1770-1827).  This piece was interesting, and the playing worthy, but it is not Beethoven at his best.  The adagio is not perfectly conceived, to my ear, and the Tema con variazioni: Pria ch’ io l ‘impegno not wholly satisfying.

The Piano Trio in C minor, Op. 66 (1845), by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847), on the other hand, is more coherently conceived.  Mendelssohn is not in the same league of genius as Beethoven, and though less ambitious he was more consistent.  Op. 66 is wonderfully melodic and the third movement, the Scherzo, Molto allegro quasi presto, is delivered with great gusto.  The Trio did a wonderful job of bringing it to life.

However, the undisputed highlight of the concert was the Piano Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 87 (1889) by Antonin Dvorak (1841-1904).  We here at The Jade Sphinx had never heard this piece before, and it was as if a thunderclap erupted in the house.  This is a remarkable piece – melodic and dramatic, with a clear musical line and distinct tone and point of view.  Ms. Ngwenyama joined the trio for this piece, and her bowing was clear and strong, tightly controlled and passionately delivered.  One could almost hear the entire ensemble beating to one heart, and the flourish with which they finished brought applause long, loud and lusty.  It was one of those electric moments that PSC can deliver with such astounding regularity.

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