Twenty years ago the idea that a concert of relatively minor chamber music might have attracted a mob in this city would have seemed ridiculous. But there they were at the Kennedy Center Saturday night for Isaac Stern, Pinchas Zukerman and Leonard Rose. The house was packed; there was a full on-stage contingent, and even standing room was jammed.
The program consisted of two Beethoven trios for violin, viola and cello, a short Schubert movement and Kodaly's violin-cello duo. The only certifiable masterpiece of the evening was the encore. It was the minuet from Mozart's E-flat Divertimento (calling a work of this epic scale a mere divertimento is like describing "Hamlet" as a character study).
The performances were no doubt prepared in the studio of Stern's spacious apartment on New York's upper West Side. And they retained that at-home easiness. Tempos were leisurely. Precision was sometimes sacrificed for warmth of phrase and tonal beauty. And phrasing was often exquisite.
But there was nothing breathtaking about the concert because there is nothing breathtaking about the works performed. And that is the most important point. We seem to have reached a level of sophistication where being bowled over is no longer necessary to draw a crowd -- a happy development indeed.