An instrumental trio bound for history

There are two approaches to chamber music in performance. Either a group of talented soloists (and, one hopes, friends) can get together for a series of concerts. Or a permanent group can be formed that refines itself over the years.

The former often give high-powered performances full of passion and excitement. The latter: renditions noted for subtlety, insight, and finely dovetailed ensemble.

The ideal -- soloists so compatible that they do not compete but rather devote all their individual talents to the service of the music -- rarely occurs. The most famous example in recorded (i.e. phonographic) history remains the trio formed by Alfred Cortot, Jacques Thibaud, and Pablo Casals. There have been others of note, including, most recently, that of Vladimir Ashkenazy, Itzhak Perlman, and Lynn Harrell. But none have managed to come close to the legendary Cortot-Thibaud-Casals.

None, that is, until Emanuel Ax, Young- Uck Kim, and Yo-Yo Ma got together to make music. The results were mightily impressive, and in future years, with the inevitable deepening of their already impressive commitment to music, without personal showcasing, one can only imagine what the possibilities will be.

The concert the trio offered in Jordan Hall in Boston -- the last stop on a rigorous two- week tour -- offered insights aplenty and a veritable feast of musical riches. The program included Mozart's G major Trio, K. 564, Beethoven's E-flat major Trio, Op. 70, No. 2, and, after the intermission, the Op. 65 Trio by Dvorak, in F minor.

Boston's chamber music audiences tend to be sincere in their responses but not overgenerous. Yet at the intermission, the acclaim was as fervent as the most lavish of post-program ovations. At the end, a standing ovation was accorded -- again, quite rare for Boston chamber-music audiences.

It would be hard to single out the most felicitous aspect of this trio. Rarely has one heard each instrument so fluently, so opulently played, and rarely has one heard such mutually attentive instrumental listening one to the other. The Mozart bubbled delightfully. The Beethoven built to white-heat intensity. The Dvorak proved positively sublime.

Ma is the most gifted young cellist on the scene today -- a strong soloist who adores chamber music. Throughout, his elegant phrasing, his rich tone, his perfect tenoring of emotion with intellect made for something unique. And Kim's honey-toned violin work was, throughout, a joy to listen to.

Ax's fluency at the keyboard -- those gossamer runs in the Beethoven, the dramatic searching tension of the Dvorak -- were a constant asset.

One looks forward to each future concert, and one earnestly hopes some record company will wish to chronicle this historic partnership the way EMI chronicled Cortot- Thibaud-Casals.

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