It's easy to forget sometimes that most of our great works of instrumental music were written not for large orchestras, but for smaller groups of musicians performing in a more intimate setting.
Indeed, these sonatas, trios, quartets, quintets, sextets, septets and octets of the chamber repertoire represent our greatest composers at the apex of their art, so it's hardly surprising that the most prestigious virtuosos have gravitated toward chamber music like moths to a flame.
Jascha Heifetz, Pablo Casals, and Artur Rubinstein were champions of the chamber idiom in their day, and you'll often find such luminaries as Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma and Vladimir Ashkenazy playing collegially in ours.
Columbia's Candlelight Concert series will present one of these ultra-virtuosic ensembles in concert Saturday night when pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson take the Smith Theatre stage to perform masterpieces by Haydn, Mendelssohn, and Tchaikovsky. Curtain will be at 8 p.m.
Each member of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio enjoys an internationally acclaimed career as a soloist, yet it is as a chamber ensemble that they have made their greatest mark for more than two decades.
The trio has appeared in the world's most illustrious music venues. Its performance in Carnegie Hall's "Centennial Series" made the piano trio -- the combination consisting of piano, violin and cello -- an integral part of the 100th birthday celebration of the venerable structure on Manhattan's West 57th Street.
Whether performing a complete Brahms chamber cycle with the Guarneri Quartet, or presenting the first full traversal of Beethoven's piano trios ever played at New York's Lincoln Center, the group has been blazing musical trails since its inception.
This concert season, the "KLR" will mix performances of the 10 Beethoven trios with the string sonatas and complete trios of Dimitri Shostakovich. They also have scheduled performances in Boston, Chicago, Miami and Pittsburgh, as well as in a special appearance with the Orion String Quartet for an all-Beethoven program given by the Chamber Society of Lincoln Center at New York's Alice Tully Hall.
For all their stellar programming, it would be hard to imagine three more engaging offerings than the ones Candlelight's audience will enjoy Saturday.
The program begins with well-deserved homage to Franz Joseph Haydn, whose genius propelled the piano-violin-cello combination to prominence in the mid-18th century. The lovely A major Trio, No. 18 is KLR's Haydn of choice.
With Felix Mendelssohn's C minor Trio, Kalichstein, Laredo and Robinson present one of the true stunners of the Romantic era. The exquisitely calm, raptly devotional second movement is itself worth the price of a ticket.
Capping the program are the emotional extremes of Tchaikovsky's gorgeous A minor Trio.
"You once advised me to write a trio for piano, violin and cello," Tchaikovsky wrote to his patron, Madame Nadezhda von Meck, "and I replied that I openly declared my antipathy to this combination of instruments. Now suddenly I am conceiving the idea of testing myself in this sort of music."
Test himself he did. And had Peter Ilyich ever been able to hear Kalichstein, Laredo and Robinson have a go at his handiwork, even he -- music's all-time self-doubter -- would have been deeply moved by the results.
Ticket information: 410- 410-715-0034 or 301-596-6203.
Pub Date: 2/18/99