Review: Laredo & Robinson

March 17, Virginia Commonwealth University

The Kalchstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio temporarily became the Laredo-Robinson Duo after pianist Joseph Kalichstein slipped on black ice and broke an arm last weekend. He’s recovering nicely following surgery, violinist Jaime Laredo reported as he joined his wife, cellist Sharon Robinson, in a concert at Virginia Commonwealth University’s Singleton Arts Center.

The program, last of this season’s Rennolds Chamber Concerts, was a showcase of rarities. There is a limited repertory of violin and cello duets. Just two pieces, Johann Halvorsen’s Passacaglia, based on a movement from Handel’s Keyboard Suite in G minor, and Zoltan Kodály’s Duo, Op. 7, could be called “standard,” and then only if you stretch the term.

Other works played by Laredo and Robinson were the Duo (1925) of Erwin Schulhoff, a Czech Jewish composer who died in a Nazi concentration camp; Mozart’s Duo in G major, K. 423; and “Inventions on a Marriage” by Richard Danielpour, written in celebration of the 35th wedding anniversary of the violinist and cellist and introduced in 2011 at the Virginia Arts Festival.

The Kodály Duo is to violin-cello duos what Johann Sebastian Bach’s unaccompanied suites are to solo violinists and cellists – a technical and musical summit to be scaled, and returned to for artistic replenishment. This performance by Laredo and Robinson showed that they have pondered the work at length and in years of playing it have learned to coalesce its numerous challenges to fiddle technique with its musical content – a sophisticated suite-cum-fantasy on the folk song and dance of Hungary and neighboring lands.

Schulhoff’s Duo is a similar, although more episodic, exploration of vernacular idioms, couched in a spiky modernist language and spiced with 1920s jazz rhythms. Laredo introduced it as “a masterpiece,” and he and Robinson treated it accordingly, smoothing its edges somewhat and playing it with more import than wit.

Danielpour’s piece, described by the composer as “snapshots” and “invented scenarios” of a longtime marriage (not necessarily that of Laredo and Robinson), is a characterful, generally cheerful, succession of seven musical vignettes. Aside from an overly mellow “Argument,” the duo’s performance lived up to the composer’s descriptive titles, most strikingly in the buzzing effects of “As You Were Sleeping . . . ” and the merriment of “Celebration.”

The violinist and cellist emphasized technical display in the Halvorsen Passacaglia, and played the Mozart Duo as an ear-pleasing divertissement.

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