If genealogy is not all, then it's very nearly an answer to why music seems to flow in the veins of some rather than others. Take the cases of violinist Pamela Frank and pianist Peter Serkin, who played a recital Saturday at Ambassador Auditorium in Pasadena.
His illustrious progenitor was no less than Rudolf Serkin, and Adolf Busch his grandfather. Beyond that, Peter Serkin grew up amid such influences as the Marlboro Festival in Vermont, a noted incubator of chamber music, and has made a career as much as an ensemble player as a celebrated soloist.
Her parents, pianists Lillian Kallir and Claude Frank, also treated their daughter to chamber music forays (the way others do camping trips), and she too enjoyed an environmental advantage.
Little wonder, then, that these two would choose such connoisseur fare as the three Brahms sonatas and, more important, have the wherewithal to dig beyond their surface niceties.
Frank boasts a distinctive tone--dusky, poised rather than piercing, and round rather than glassy. Serkin is a known entity; his playing here showed the subtlety of touch and detailed intelligence that are his hallmark. While he often produced a murmuring undercurrent to her voice-intensive readings, their partnership was an equal one, with a dynamic/expressive interchange that seemed to be custom-fitted.
Indeed, if one carried away a single impression of the playing, it was the mutual quietude into lonely Brahmsian retreat, as they marked it at phrase endings--by example, their utterly grave Adagio in the G-major Sonata, drawn-out and attenuated.
But Frank and Serkin also delivered the big, sweeping gestures and leisurely songfulness that define Brahms. Of the A-major they made a folkish romp, with especially jaunty cross-rhythms and tender, carefree lyricism. The D-minor emerged as the powerhouse it is--tapping Serkin's digital strength and vehemence.