The La Gesse Foundation concerts, put on annually to fund a "unique retreat for musicians" and to showcase the results, draws a small but devoted coterie of supporters. These well-heeled people, some decked out in evening wear on a Monday night, fork over $25 per ticket (nearly double the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater's price). A "regular" audience, there for good music and not for a pet cause, may have been less appreciative of this lengthy program of solo and chamber works.
The curiously uneven quality of musicmaking began with Beethoven's Trio, Op. 70, No 1. Pianist Peter Takacs lapsed in and out of a grasp on phrasing, which could be direct and forceful at times. The energetic violinist Benny Kim made all the right moves, but his sound seemed lightweight, almost as if he were holding back. But from Arkadiusz Tesarcyzk's cello, one only heard warm, creamy tones throughout the evening.
The two solo performances were disappointing. In Chopin's Sonata in B-flat minor, pianist Paul Maillet rarely progressed beyond the realm of glittering salon music. A harsh attack marred the upper ranges. The Scherzo seemed rushed and frantic; the Presto, murky. At times, the voice of the metronome was more apparent than the subtle poetry that binds the movements together. With less showmanship and more sensitivity, Liliane Questel did what she could with Ting Ho's "Cabaret Nights," a passe pastiche of atonal thuds, jazzy riffs and variations on "Amazing Grace."
Tesarcyk's return to the stage was the best thing that could have happened to the Debussy Cello Sonata and the Mendelssohn Trio in D Minor. In his difficult part, Edward Newman was poised and professional. But the predictable performance proved that there's no easy path toward the Mendelssohn's dramatic urgency and spectral unrest.