In the realm of chamber music, it is generally held that those who play as an ongoing unit can offer the finely honed ensemble and deep exploration that ad-hoc groups cannot begin to achieve.
So when the Los Angeles Philharmonic Chamber Society presented its latest concert Monday at the intimate Gindi Auditorium--an evening of piano trios played by two groups exemplifying each of these categories--at least one listener came prepared to make an easy distinction.
The members of Trio West--cellist Barry Gold, violinist Mark Baranov and his wife, pianist Lisa Targonsky (not a Philharmonic member)--have been playing together for six years. What they presumably boast, beyond the comfort of performance familiarity, is a mutually grasped interpretive view.
The other ensemble--pianist Andre Previn, violinist Kyung-Wha Chung and cellist Ronald Leonard--represented single-occasion serendipity. Here, the working credo must be: Trust the impulse and individual virtuosity.
For the comparison-minded, then, this had to be a curious encounter. But it turned out to be nothing so simple as that.
For one thing, Trio West, which is not about to put the Beaux Arts out of business, didn't always accomplish the height of unanimity and balance. In an animated reading of Haydn's C-major Trio, cellist Gold seemed overwhelmed by his more aggressive colleagues--although the presto finale did put the lion's share of technical challenge at the keyboard, where Targonsky whipped up a blaze of bravura.
Matters improved with Shostakovich's E-minor Trio, which assigns solo parts and an exposed string duet. Here Gold emerged as a musician of depth, of subtlety, while Baranov captured the score's character of a nose-thumbing renegade leading his cohorts on a spree. It was wonderful to hear.
But when, after intermission, the Stellar Trio made its appearance, a different listening experience evolved. The reason: soloists, as opposed to orchestra players, are used to taking a performance opportunity by the throat. If the music is to come alive, they hold the singular responsibility.
This common wisdom applied mainly to Chung, a powerful musician under any circumstances and here, in Ravel's Trio, an absolutely compelling force. Not that her collaborators were slouches-- both Previn and Leonard rose masterfully to the occasion.
It was Chung, however, who clearly galvanized them. Following her whiplash entrances on an inexorable course, they played the piece for all its brilliant splashes of color, rhythmic drive and sensual ecstasy.
Who does what, in the musical scheme, sometimes overrides how and when.