An intensely powerful piano trio by a composer named Tchaikovsky -- this one a British composer of Polish birth -- received its first Washington performance in the debut appearance here last night of the virtuoso Frankl/ Pauk/Kirshbaum Trio.

The parallels between Andre' Tchaikovsky and that other one, the Russian, are remarkable. Both led essentially tragic lives. Andre''s parents died in the Nazi occupation and he died in 1982 at only 48.

Further, each ended his compositional output with a work of deep despair. With Peter it was the "Pathe'tique" Symphony, and with Andre' it was this trio. The latter actually received its first performance at the man's funeral in July 1982.

Further, each imposes upon a traditional abstract structure in four movements a programmatic shape -- the descent into death, followed by an ambiguous epilogue of relief.

The musical vocabulary of the new trio, performed at the Library of Congress, is full of the gaping intervals and jagged lines of many of the present-day postserial composers. Its drama is intense. Emotions are projected on very large scales, and the grimness recalls Barto'k in his darkest mode.

The trio was written for these players. They are solo performers of considerable repute who tour together as a trio for a few weeks a year: pianist Peter Frankl, violinist Gyo rgy Pauk and cellist Ralph Kirshbaum. They formed their group 15 years ago.

The other contemporary work was a sonata for violin and piano written in 1973 by American composer Benjamin Lees, who was present for the performance. It is another troubled, driven creation -- fairly direct in expression, and without the Tchaikovsky Trio's despair. It is very demanding for the players; Pauk and Frankl rose to the demands spectacularly. The sonata was commissioned by the library.

The concert opened with the Beethoven Cello Sonata in D major, Op. 102. Kirshbaum played with subtlety and commitment. This work, though, is often not so much a cello sonata as it is a piano sonata with cello. Frankl, a noted Beethoven player, was very stylish. There was, for instance, the elegance with which he inflected the main theme of the finale without undercutting its seriousness.

Also on the program were Mendelssohn's fervent D minor trio and the madcap presto from Beethoven's Trio, Op. 1, No. 2, as an encore.