The Paris Piano Trio began touring in North America more than 10 years ago but did not make its Washington debut until Saturday night, in the Smithsonian's Baird Auditorium. The program was selected with a fine sense of balance and contrast, performed with polish, vigor and an exemplary sense of style. There were, in fact, three styles: Mozart's classicism, Beethoven's romanticism, and impressionism a la Ravel. It was a great experience and one that should be followed up as soon as possible. Fortunately, the trio will give its second Washington performance in February at the University of Maryland.

Only a half-dozen years separate Mozart's Trio in E, K. 542 (1788), from Beethoven's Trio in C Minor, Op. 1, No. 1 (1794-95), but in the Paris Piano Trio's thoughtful interpretation there was a world of difference. Mozart was light, fluent, graceful and not particularly serious, above all in the piano part, which he probably wrote for himself. Beethoven was a pianist, too, and this was the basis of his reputation when he composed his first piano trio. But the figure that emerges in this music is Beethoven the composer: young, bold, vigorous and eager to get out of the 18th century. "I am here," the music announces, "and the rules have changed." The music does not always sound that way in performance; for the right effect, the players have to look at it from the perspective of Beethoven's maturity--to see it as a long step toward the great "Archduke" Trio. The Parisians saw it that way.

The Paris Piano Trio was, predictably, right at home with Ravel's Trio in A Minor--in turn atmospherically evocative, playful, brilliant, moody and intensely dramatic. It was hard to imagine the players could top their Beethoven performance, but they did and made it look easy.