It takes a certain amount of getting used to, but there's no doubt that the sound of an 18th-century forte-piano in a Mozart concerto gives an ensemble an entirely different flavor.
Last night's concert by the Smithsonian Chamber Players in the Baird Auditorium ended with Mozart's E Flat Major Concerto for two such pianos and orchestra. The orchestra -- strings and oboes -- was small, and the instruments were of the period (or in the case of the winds, reproductions), which meant, on the whole, with sound that is not as brilliant as that of today's instruments, and more woody or reedy as the case may be. But even in this context, the pianos had to struggle to assert themselves.
What the piano's lacked in resonance, power and evenness of action, however, they made up for in clarity and delicacy. Modern instrument-makers invented the muddy bass. Jean-Louis Dulkin (after whose instruments these were fashioned) and his ilk could not have imagined such a thing.
James Weaver, who heads the Chamber Players, and James Richman played the pianos with chamber musicians' attention to ensemble.
The baroque half of the program, music of Muffat, Handel and Germiniani, was stylish and, at times, utterly delightful.