Kennedy Center Chamber Players. (Margot Ingoldsby Schulman/Margot Ingoldsby Schulman)

The chemistry of a chamber music ensemble can be as elusive and mercurial as any relationship, or even more so. Many factors can contribute to making a performance excellent or not so much. Whatever those factors may have been, they all lined up for a top-notch concert by three members of the Kennedy Center Chamber Players on Sunday evening at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

Cellist David Hardy and pianist Lambert Orkis showed two different musical facets in the first half. Bach’s Sonata in D for viola da gamba and continuo (BWV 1028), updated to cello and grand piano, was blithe and sweet, with only a few minor tempo inconsistencies between players in the fast movements. Orkis kept his foot off the sustaining pedal, adding some pleasing ornaments, and Hardy minimized his vibrato, both playing with consummate sensitivity. By contrast, Mendelssohn’s first sonata for cello and piano (B-flat, Op. 45) was wild and tempestuous, played with a theatrical sense of drama amid the torrents of notes. Hardy gave plaintive voice to the soaring melody of the middle movement, a rare moment of repose.

Violinist Marissa Regni joined them for Brahms’s second trio (C, Op. 87), her tone in the instrument’s low range, where the composer most loved to dwell, dark and rich. She and Hardy interlaced the string lines gracefully, especially in the gorgeous variations of the second movement, a tender and melancholy love song. The trio was bold but inwardly turned in its intensity, with the busy agitation of the fourth movement crowned by a spirit of exultation in the strong gestures of all three musicians. This was Brahms just as I like him, emotions churning but smoldering rather than burning openly.

Downey is a freelance writer.