Mozart's "Kegelstatt" Trio derives its name from the game of skittles -- at which the great composer was presumably playing when he composed this work for his friend, the clarinetist Anton Stadler, for himself (on viola) and for a favorite piano pupil.
The origin suggested by the name suggests, in turn, a slight and playful work. And, in truth, for late Mozart (it was composed in the summer of 1786), the "Kegelstatt" Trio is exactly that. But the superb performance it received last night in Shriver Hall from clarinetist David Shifrin, violist Paul Neubauer and pianist Margo Garett suggested depths beneath its small-scaled and intimate surfaces.
This was especially true in the slow movement in the interchanges between the legato phrases of Shifrin's beautiful playing and the gruff responses of Neubauer's almost uncannily secure playing. Garrett may not be as well-known as her two celebrated colleagues, but she did not check her personality at the stage door. Her warm, sunny playing pleasingly contrasted and blended with Shifrin's playfulness and Neubauer's impassioned anguish.
The rest of the program consisted of two works that individually showcased the clarinet (Debussy's "Premiere Rhapsodie") and viola (Hindemith's Sonata for Viola and Piano, Opus 11, No. 4) and one that combined all three instruments (four of Max Bruch's pieces from his Opus 83).
The Bruch works were pitched to the audience in a manner that made the most persuasive case for these pleasant but bland confections that mix Mendelssohnian lightness with Brahmsian melancholy. The Hindemith brought deserved cheers from the string players (and others) in the audience, who clearly admired the fearlessness with which Neubauer attacked his instrument and the brilliance with which he and Garrett realized its bravura and its feeling.
The Debussy rhapsody was also brilliantly played, beginning in an appropriately dreamy manner, acquiring surprising force that never violated its scale and always making a sensuous impact. And the encore -- the third of Schumann's "Maerchenerzaehlungen" for clarinet, viola and piano -- was played with serene focus.
This was a hodgepodge of a concert -- it could not be otherwise because the repertory for this combination of instruments is not large -- but it was a wonderful one.