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Star trio makes an enjoyable combination

Such is the box-office appeal of Anne-Sophie Mutter, Andre Previn, and Lynn Harrell that their trio concert was the fastest-selling FleetBoston Celebrity Series subscription concert even before the artists had ever appeared together as a trio.

Celebrity trios and great piano trios are overlapping categories that only rarely coincide completely, but the Mutter-Previn-Harrell ensemble certainly gave great pleasure to its Symphony Hall audience last night. This was the group's first trio concert in America, although they did perform Beethoven's Triple Concerto in New York earlier this year.

They have not yet arrived at that rare and magical thing that is more than, and apart from, the sum of their parts. But all three are marvelous players and musicians and they seem to take pleasure in each other's company -- after all Previn and Mutter are married now, and Previn and Harrell have worked together for years.

Mutter, looking spectacular in a strapless bird-of-paradise fuschia top with a big winged bow in the back over black slacks, is the youngest of the players and the least experienced in chamber music. But what a formidable and intelligent violinist she is, every note absolutely in tune over an extraordinary dynamic range -- she does not so much play a pizzicato or an accent as detonate it. Some of her playing sounded a bit fierce last night, perhaps because the trios by Beethoven (Op. 1, No. 3), Brahms (Op. 8), and Mendelssohn (Op. 49) so seldom took her into that uniquely sweet and soaring upper range of hers. But she is a flawless instrumentalist, and of her security and clarity of musical intention there was never any question.

Harrell, sporting a new white beard that makes him look benevolent and patriarchal, has the cello chops to meet Mutter on her own terms while remaining true to his own centered musical personality and revealing the rewards of decades of experience of making music with others.

Previn, who has been playing chamber music as a classical and jazz musician for at least sixty years, operated within a more restricted dynamic range, or at least appeared to. He played on a magnificently shiny Boesendorfer piano brought in from New York for the occasion, a sweet-toned instrument that seemed to lack aggressive characteristics and sometimes even sounded muffled, despite the fact the lid was open all the way. He remains an amazingly fluent, dapper, and accurate pianist whose passagework in all three trios was delightful, and the audience murmured and chuckled with pleasure after the scampering Scherzo in the Mendelssohn.

That the group can already sound deeper notes was evident in the Schubertian variations of the Beethoven Trio and the eloquent interactions in the slow movement of the Brahms. There was no encore, but Mutter, Previn, and Harrell had left us with plenty to ponder.

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