Stylistic inbreeding, the kind that sometimes afflicts trios and quartets with stationary personnel, finds no hospitable ground with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Rather, the 18 players who comprise the official performing group of Alice Tully Hall are geared to mixing things up. And when a touring contingent opened the UCLA orchestra series Wednesday at Royce Hall, a sense of musical largesse and fluidity characterized both the playing and the program.
Poles apart from the satiny ultra-refinement smoothed into place by some other ensembles, the New Yorkers are lapel-grabbers. At least that was the way Leonard Arner (oboe), Gervase de Peyer (clarinet), James Buswell (violin), Paul Neubauer (viola), Fred Sherry (cello) and Lee Luvisi (piano) came across.
Potent in their delivery, no matter what the widely varying musical dictates and ever-changing roster, they know how to keep an audience attentive. But the well-contrasted agenda--works by Dohnanyi, Mozart, Stravinsky and Mendelssohn--further ensured against droopy eyelids.
Dohnanyi's Serenade for string trio, for instance (Buswell, Neubauer and Sherry), became a call to the probing, highly physical qualities inspired by the score's runaway sprightliness, earthy agitation and bucolic ecstasy--some-times, however, at the expense of suavity.
But before anyone could get too settled into this mode, the trio was joined by Arner for Mozart's Oboe Quartet, K. 370. Suddenly, as if all the world's turmoil had stopped, the players transformed themselves into blithe and innocent spirits, uttering sweet exchanges and gently humorous asides--with Arner piping his pure melody above the complement.
And then, again, a jolting contrast. Stravinsky wrote a trio version of his acerbic "L'Histoire du Soldat," which the New Yorkers heartily embraced. While the composer in his full original score asked that this musical parable "be read and danced," he intended no such possibility here.
Not to worry, though. With violinist Buswell as the catalyst, there were no dramatic limits. Standing (along with clarinetist De Peyer), he captured as much sardonic muscularity and mocking mischief as this listener remembers hearing. Here was proof that music alone can fulfill theatrical intent.
The evening ended with a vigorous, urgent, tender reading of Mendelssohn's Second Piano Trio.