Making a first Southern California appearance, the Vienna-based Beethoven Trio Vienna Friday night showed itself a role model for any aspiring piano trio in an effortlessly artful performance. The three players' challenging program listed the G-major Trio of Beethoven's Opus 1, Mozart's B-flat Trio, K. 502, and Brahms' Opus 87.
To be sure, this handsome display--for the Doheny Mansion series at Mount St. Mary's College downtown campus--achieved its peak in the opening Beethoven work, making the rest of the program pleasant but anticlimactic. Even so, the ensemble's level of musical and technical accomplishment did not actually sink; it merely proved secondary in terms of polish.
Pianist Christiane Karajeva, violinist Markus Wolf and cellist Yves Savary--the newest member of the 11-year-old ensemble--seem to have balanced their artistic sensibilities, individual tone qualities and interpretive predilections to that point where their readings reach maximal credibility. Their sense of style and of continuity produce pointed insights and an unperturbed musical perspective.
Their Beethoven playing, in the exposing G-major work, achieved heroism without grandstanding, pungent details without persnicketiness. Pianist Karajeva dominated, of course, as the score indicates, but refrained from overstatement; her technical solidity here proved the foundation of the group's artistic personality.
Overall, however, one had to note that spontaneity is a quality the ensemble seems to lack, and consistently. That virtue proved regularly missing in the Mozart and Brahms works, where humor and a beating heart are necessary to bring the printed score to life. Admiring the playing is not as important as receiving the music.