The Washington Chamber Society has taken as its model New York's Chamber Society of Lincoln Center. In some ways they are indeed similar. The young instrumentalists concentrate on chamber classics and maintain an ad hoc membership of seven players, adding or subtracting from their number according to the works programmed. Saturday night at their home base, the acoustically splendid recital hall of Wesley United Methodist Church, they programmed two trios for clarinet, cello and piano -- an early Beethoven and a late Brahms.
The results were mixed. Clarinetist Charles Stier played with warm tone and elegant phrasing that certainly equaled Lincoln Center's Richard Stolzman and even evoked memories of the great English clarinetist Reginald Kell. But pianist Brian Ganz and cellist Neale Perl were at odds with each other. Ganz is a Dionysian player, full of precipitous scales and slamming climaxes, Perl an Apollonian, so reticent that he allowed his big moments to get away from him. The full-throated cello song that opens the Beethoven adagio hardly rose above a whisper in Perl's rendition. In the dour but moving Brahms trio, all three musicians listened to one another more attentively, resulting in better ensemble and expressiveness.
The third work on the program was a surprise and a treat -- "Four Fragments From the Caunterbury Tales," a 1958 work by the too little known American composer Lester Trimble. Drawing on Chaucer's Middle English poetry for its text and employing a soprano, flute, clarinet and harpsichord (taken here by pianist Ganz), the piece is a delightful romp in the chatty manner of Ravel's "Histoires naturelles." The two new performers, soprano Rosa Lamoreaux and flutist Karen Johnson Smith, did this chamber cantata, and the Washington Chamber Society, proud.