Mendelssohn Piano Trio

Pianos made by New York-based Steinway & Sons dominate concert stages, but the Embassy of Austria understandably favors the Viennese Bosendorfer, which has a softer, warmer sound than a Steinway. The Mendelssohn Piano Trio played three Austrian piano trios using the Bosendorfer as part of the Embassy Series on Friday night.

Inventive touches delight the ear in Karl Goldmark's little-known Piano Trio in B-flat, like the joke at the end of the sprightly first movement when the cellist prematurely begins playing the second movement's theme. In both movements, Fiona Thompson played that broad, tender theme with grace and a gorgeous tone. Elsewhere, pianist Ya-Ting Chang's delicacy and wit, combined with the gentle attack of the piano, made the third-movement fugato infectious rather than pedantic.

Erich Wolfgang Korngold's piano trio, written in his adolescence, sounds like the work of a man already made resigned by life. In its outer movements, tempo and rhythm change so frequently that any momentum falters, and melancholy themes drown in seas of chromatics. The trio nevertheless found the bite in the Scherzo and the affecting pathos of the slow movement, whose autumnal tone was enhanced by the Bosendorfer's rich colors.

Violinist Peter Sirotin and cellist Thompson shone in Schubert's Piano Trio in B-flat, playing their sustained melodies with luscious tone and bringing out the work's seemingly inexhaustible joy. Indeed, at times the string players obscured Chang's contributions, which the piano made quieter than usual. The radiant performance of the Rondo finale, though, confirmed that the Mendelssohn Piano Trio had made the evening a triumph for Austrian composers and pianos alike.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

Arlington Symphony Orchestra

Violinist Elmar Oliveira is an intense musician who seems to scrutinize his music beneath a microscope. His interpretations are often illuminating, and on Saturday evening he gave a spellbinding performance with the Arlington Symphony at the Schlesinger Concert Hall.

From his first note in Samuel Barber's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 14, Oliveira took command of the performance. The violinist knew the score inside out and he wanted it performed a specific way. With a tapping foot, he pushed the tempo at times, urging the orchestra, under Music Director Ruben Vartanyan's baton, to gush into majestic accelerandos. In this manner, soloist and orchestra swelled phrases into passionate sounds of heartache and longing. Whenever Oliveira lingered on thoughtful melodies with his honeyed tone, the responsive orchestra hung onto warm, sustained chords.

As an appetizer for the concerto, the orchestra's string players pulled out the Adagietto from Mahler's Symphony No. 5. Unlike the lines that exploded into resolution in the Barber piece, the statements here built up and surprisingly backed away from their peaks. Such conservation made for an especially satisfying ending, with an elongated crescendo that cried out in full and receded with shimmering luminescence.

-- Grace Jean

Concertante

Violas have always been the butts of bad jokes (e.g., Why is a viola better than a violin? It burns longer), but violas ruled in the performance that the string sextet Concertante brought to the Wolf Trap Barns on Friday. Of course, the program helped. The dark sonorities and brooding intimacies of Schoenberg's "Verklaerte Nacht" and the rich opulence of the Brahms Sextet in B-flat gave violists Yehonatan Berick and Ara Gregorian plenty of opportunity to expound on the glories of their instrument.

The evening opened with a gentle and genial reading of the Sextet from Richard Strauss's one-act opera "Capriccio." Here, balance and careful listening produced gorgeous unisons and a sense of repose.

The intricacies of "Verklaerte Nacht," or "Transfigured Night," are wonderfully early 20th-century Germanic in their romantic and spiritual nature. An evocation of guilt, despair and transfiguring forgiveness, all played out during a young couple's evening walk, the music requires restraint and indulgence, attention to detail and to the poetic landscape and the virtuosity to achieve all of this confidently. The ensemble here was beautifully crafted and the poetry spoke eloquently.

The Brahms Sextet is almost orchestral in its sonorities. For this concert the Concertante musicians chose to emphasize its dance qualities -- not the romanticized and stylized dance so characteristic of Brahms, but a chipper, almost bouncy version. Rhythms felt a little too accented, melodies were understated and the whole piece seemed rushed. The artists did what they wanted to do well, but it is not clear that the result was what Brahms had in mind.

-- Joan Reinthaler

The Mendelssohn Piano Trio performed trios by Goldmark, Korngold and Schubert.