Perhaps it has become less than complimentary to talk about classical music as comfortable; classical music should be (or should be marketed as) bracing, exciting, the better to compete in an ever-noisier media environment. Nonetheless, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio’s Celebrity Series concert at Jordan Hall on Sunday was a decidedly comfortable affair.
The group’s sound is comfortable, certainly: a plush, Romantic tone, Joseph Kalichstein’s solid, clear piano touch mediating between Sharon Robinson’s rich, cushiony cello tone and Jaime Laredo’s more finely honed violin. But the comfort is mostly temperamental; after playing together for over 30 years, the group is comfortable with each other, interpretively congruous, effortlessly anticipative.
In that regard, André Previn’s 2011 Piano Trio No. 2 — a Boston premiere — was a perfect fit: relaxed conversation whether the topic is serious or sunny. Previn might not venture outside his comfort zone, but that zone is larger than most; the music’s dominant feature is pure fluency. Styles meet and greet with effortless etiquette. The borders between European classicism, expansive Americana, and Hollywood shamanism are crisscrossed with cosmopolitan ease.
Like much of Previn’s recent music (“Music for Boston,” premiered by the Boston Symphony last summer, for instance, or “Octet for Eleven,” written for the BSO Chamber Players), the Trio can seem rather formally loose, but the stream of consciousness is unusually smooth. Previn is particularly efficient with simple thematic recapitulations, as in the slow movement, when Robinson’s long, angular opening cello solo returned with Kalichstein’s accompaniment making manifest the melody’s latent cinematic arc.
Previn’s panache was preceded by the more Apollonian flair of Mozart’s B-flat major Trio, K. 502. The performance emphasized the score’s retrospectively Romantic aspects: the minor-key contrasts in the opening Allegro made into picturesque squalls, the Larghetto’s lyricism draped in a warm blanket of rubato and rich sound. The Allegretto finale, bright and pearly, was an easygoing summation.
Tchaikovsky’s Op. 50 Piano Trio, on the other hand, is a monument — a memorial to the composer’s friend and colleague Nikolai Rubinstein, capped by a massive, encyclopedic theme-and-variations. The strengths of the piece and the performance intersected in interesting ways. When the rhetoric was heroic, the playing was energetic but monochromatic in its forcefulness. But in intimate sections — those quintessentially Tchiakovskian transformations of sentimentality into poignant nobility — the sound bloomed. The satiny, brooding variations just before the finale were particularly good: flexible rhythm, saturated color, heightened expression. It was a different comfort, that of the seasoned traveler venturing forth.