For 20 years as second violinist of the Julliard String Quartet, Earl Carlyss was a calming, moderating influence, his tone always silken, his inclinations always lyrical, even in the midst of a stormy ensemble. He retired from the Juilliard two years ago to join the faculty of the Peabody Conservatory, but keeps his hand in, performing with his wife, pianist Ann Schein.
The two brought a fine program to the National Gallery last night, pieces written in the 1780s, the 1880s and the 1980s, all of which share the same lyrical underpinnings. In the B-flat Major Sonata K.454, Mozart turned from the vocal style that influenced so much of his instrumental writing and produced, instead, a piece that was pointedly idiomatic for the violin. Carlyss treated it to a gentle reading that stressed line rather than inflection and weightlessness rather than energy.
Gerard Schurmann's Duo is an expansive and vigorously impressionistic piece that Carlyss and Schein played with a powerful sense of impulse. Here the ensemble, which had seemed so carefully crafted in the Mozart, took on a more spontaneous but no less satisfying appearance.
The concert ended with the Grieg Sonata No. 3 in C Minor, full of bits of folk tunes and touches of nostalgia, and played with both affection and authority.