For the Figueroas of Puerto Rico, chamber music is a family tradition going back several generations, and their concerts have a pleasantly old-fashioned air. That style found a proper setting last night in the Dumbarton Avenue Concert Series. The church where these concerts are given offers a fine old room with an intimate feeling and superb acoustics, aided by high ceilings. Seating in the round puts every member of the audience less than 50 feet from the performers, and the atmosphere is pleasantly informal.
The Figueroa family tradition was clear from the opening Haydn Trio. After a somewhat stiff beginning, the music developed into a violin solo with accompaniment, well-played by violinist Narciso Figueroa with richly romantic tone and phrasing that sounded closer to Fritz Kreisler than Haydn.
At the end of the program, the style was even more old-fashioned. Sarasate's "Jota Navarra" was performed as a mini-concerto for two violins, with Narciso and his brother Guillermo standing up to give a virtuoso performance while the rest of the family, on piano, viola and cello, sat down and played (very effectively) as a small orchestra. It was not quite what we have come to expect as chamber music in this city (where chamber-music lovers are extraordinarily well-served), but it was enjoyable and well-done, and it explains the enormous popularity of this ensemble.
The middle of the program was standard chamber music, with skilled, idiomatic performances of the Tchaikovsky Trio in A-minor and the Dvorak Trio in A. Only the first movement of the Tchaikovsky was on the program--another custom from the past, and an effective if drastic solution to the problem of the music's length.
Last night's reading of the Dvorak (apparently unlike the same group's earlier performance at the Kennedy Center) was quite satisfying, with particularly enjoyable work by cellist Rafael and pianist Yvonne Figueroa. The players could have been a shade more relaxed, perhaps, but the balances and coordination were fine and the melodies--the heart of this music--were allowed to flow and expand freely.