Now in the prime of its collective artistry, the trio formed more than 12 years ago by violinist Jaime Laredo, cellist Sharon Robinson and pianist Joseph Kalichstein can boast a combination of individual virtuosity with faceted ensemble achievement, brilliance and depth in abundance.
When they last came through here, in the spring of 1988, the three East Coast-based players offered the local premiere of a brand new work by Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, on a program with standard works of Beethoven and Brahms. So one might be inclined to forgive the balanced but exclusively 19th-Century program they brought to the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society audience Sunday night.
One could have no reservations about the trio’s top-of-the-line performances of Beethoven’s Opus 11 and Mendelssohn’s C-minor Trio.
Here was rampant but controlled passion, immaculate instrumentalism and tight, contained ensemble values. The players’ sounds were lush and colorful, their skills well-honed and expressive. Tempos and pacing reflected the composers’ sense of form, not any architectonic misconstruction or ego-gratification on the part of the performers. One heard the music, not the players.
Opus 11--for once, one did not miss the usual clarinet protagonist--emerged a bumptious but serious early Beethoven outing, songful and impatient by turns, earnest in the best sense. Mendelssohn’s wondrous Second Trio sounded its siren songs gorgeously but without that effortfulness which can compromise its complicated rhetoric. This time, its difficulties did not stand in the way of its articulation.
At mid-program, guest hornist David Jolley matched, virtue for virtue, the sterling instrumental qualities of Laredo and Kalichstein in a resplendent, deeply felt performance of Brahms’ Trio in E-flat, Opus 40. After hearing countless hard-breathing readings of this piece over the years, one found tremendous satisfaction in this performance, which delivered Brahms’ long lines naturally, unstrainedly and with clear affection. Who says virtuosity is not its own reward?