One of the ideas behind the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center was to gather so many fine players into one organization that the whole rich range of this intimate art could be encompassed. Sometimes, it would seem, into the same program.
In last night's concert at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall, for instance, seldom-heard works of Ravel and Beethoven ended up being played next to each other.
Their reasons for obscurity were as utterly different as their characters. Ravel's absorbing Sonata for Violin and Piano has lain neglected in part because of its difficulty and in part because its jazz-shaped idiom still sounds advanced to ears anticipating easy tunes from the composer of "Bolero."
On the other hand, Beethoven's Octet, Op. 103, for doubled oboes, clarinets, bassoons and horns is a rarity because it is anything but absorbing -- a worthy contender to be the great man's most boring work. Even he seemed to know it, which is why he managed to keep this folly of his pre-Vienna youth from being published in this form during his lifetime.
But nobody ever suggested that the mandate of the Lincoln Center players didn't include diversity of quality as well as range.
The three-movement Ravel sonata is one of those products of the '20s -- like "Gatsby" -- in which an urbane fac,ade, with its deceptive simplicity, cloaks an uneasy interior that periodically penetrates the surface, quietly but unmistakably.
The opening movement starts with a calm pastoral theme in both instruments, a subject that one would expect to flow without care to an untroubled conclusion. Instead, though, Ravel keeps broadening the metrics for brief periods, suggesting something of gravity without probing deeper -- and ending ambivalently with a sustained high note on the violin while the piano tries to pull itself together.
The hypnotic slow movement is called "Blues" and reflects Ravel's fascination with jazz. It is gutsier stuff, however, than the nocturnal blues movement of his G major piano concerto or than the songs of his erstwhile pupil, George Gershwin. This violin part has some of the sting of a Billie Holiday.
Then, finally, in the perpetual motion last movement a touch of Gershwin momentarily surfaces.
Violinist Ani Kavafian and pianist Peter Frankl gave a superb performance. The metrical complexities of the opening movement were skillfully rendered. And one does not remember another playing of the "Blues" movement where the violinist dug in with such intensity.
Kavafian and Frankl continued playing at the same high level after intermission when they were joined by cellist Leslie Parnas in an expansive performance of that landmark of the chamber music repertory, Schubert's Trio in B-flat major, Op. 99. The composer's beatific vision of joy and love in this work is incomparable, with its seemingly inexhaustible flow of melody, its seraphic harmonies and its gossamer textures. Parnas, especially, played with eloquent control of dynamics, tone and phrasing.
The Beethoven Octet, alas, did begin to sound like Beethoven in the antic third of its four movements, with its clipped lines and rhythmic figures. But even there one heard little premonition that the composer would become a giant of artistic history. Ensemble was a little lax. But Robert Routch's articulation of the often tricky first horn part was impressive.
The evening opened with a competent but less than inspired version of Bach's Trio Sonata, BWV 1038, featuring Kavafian and flutist Paula Robison.