Big Sound, Little Subtlety by Moscow Trio

The Moscow Conservatory Trio, which performed Friday at Doheny Mansion on the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series, is made up of outstanding players whose musicianship was forged at the famed Russian institution. The unity of their purpose, and uniformity of their styles, was unquestionable.

Whether the trio's approach fit the music was another matter. You could admire the group's technique and cohesiveness, without buying its performances.

The essentially Russian manner of performance proved everywhere evident: a large emotionalism, firm phrasing, throbbing vibrato in the strings and generous portamento, and full-bodied, booming sonorities. If there was a grandiose point to make, or one perceived as grandiose, these players made it in spades. But subtlety and charm went out the window.

Violinist Dmitri Berlinsky, cellist Suren Bagratuni and pianist Paul Ostrovsky mined the classical concision and balance of Beethoven's early Trio, Opus 1, No. 3, for Brahmsian expressiveness. A lot of it--the simple theme of the Andante, the flying scales in the finale--ended up sounding comical, jacked up to monster proportions.

Brahms' early Opus 8 Trio proved more apt, if emotional and full-throttled. Though Berlinsky and Bagratuni generally held their own, Ostrovsky turned parts of the work into a roaring concerto. The strings switched on the automatic portamento pilot: Any large intervalic leap upward was dosed with the slippery substance.

Rachmaninoff's First Piano Trio found the players in their own territory, though the work is of negligible interest. But there's no accounting for taste.

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