Helium balloons decorated the high ceiling, their long, silvery strings shimmering above the performance area. A medieval fool in pied costume and jangling hat entertained the assembled guests with fire sticks and then, with great ceremony, moved chairs and music stands into place (a refreshing change from the phlegmatic stagehands who attend most concerts).
But when the 10th-anniversary concert of the Dumbarton Concert Series began Saturday night at Dumbarton Church, the fooling stopped and some mighty fine playing by the Empyrean Trio commenced.
Pianist Lambert Orkis, violinist William Steck and cellist David Hardy, all leading members of the National Symphony, opened with Beethoven's Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 10, No. 2. The group brought excitement to the most delicate passages of this graceful work and treated the delightful Allegretto, based on a simple two-note motif from the opening Allegro, with stylish playfulness.
Steck and Hardy played some exceptional solo lines as well as beautifully balanced counterpoint in Schubert's Op. 99 Trio and were well supported by Orkis' solid rhythmic base.
The drama and sweep of the evening came, as might be expected, from Brahms' C Major Trio, Op. 87. The trio played with power and virtuosity and, in the quietly opulent Scherzo, with wonderful wit and subtlety.
The concert will be broadcast by WGMS on April 15.