The Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “Steinway Series” is designed to showcase its lovingly restored Steinway concert grand. In Rachmaninoff’s lush Trio Elegiaque No. 1 at the Lysander Piano Trio’s Sunday recital — the latest installment in that series — the pianist, Liza Stepanova, could not have played more eloquently to this instrument’s richly voiced strengths, balancing crystal-clear articulation, rock-solid authority and a very Russian sense of rhapsody in her phrasing. Violinist Yevgeny Kutik and cellist Michael Katz both produced a throaty, sinuous timbre, trading elegance for a febrile intensity wholly appropriate to the deep vein of feeling in this score.
That outsized emotion carried through Beethoven’s “Ghost” Trio, in which the musicians emphasizing the work’s earthier, more extroverted side. Apart from some aptly stark, whispery tones at the opening of the Largo, the “Ghost’s” customarily spectral slow movement emerged here with an uncommon degree of heart-on-the-sleeve emotional frankness. And in both outer movements, the musicians placed a premium on exuberance.
Similarly, there wasn’t much in the Lysander’s reading of Mendelssohn’s D Minor Piano Trio that would qualify as nuanced understatement. But the ensemble’s unanimity of approach — vivid engagement carried by soaring, ripely Romantic playing — proved quite splendid. Its performance possessed a passionate single-mindedness that wound up serving all of the score’s varied moods, right through to a finale of exhilarating panache. It’s not often that a chamber performance makes a listener long to hear all the ensemble members in the big-concerto repertoire, but this one certainly did.