WILLIAMSTOWN -- Cellist Edward Arron said he and his fellow musicians like to perform at the Clark Art Institute because they enjoy "putting the art of chamber music on display."
If that's the case, their first Clark concert, last November, was a gallery with one large-scale work -- Dvorak's "Dumky" Trio -- surrounded by eight miniatures. On Sunday, the sequel installed two eccentric works by early 20th-century Czech composers between two beloved portraits, the piano quartets by Beethoven and Schumann.
Arron, the group's co-director, delivered gallery talks between numbers. His partners were his wife and co-director, pianist Jeewon Park, along with violinist Jennifer Frautschi and violist Dimitri Murrath.
This was a consistently fresh and sometimes eloquent program by an ensemble that bears no name but consists of friends who play in different groupings. Right off the bat, it announced its energetic approach with a robust, even sizzling performance of the early Beethoven work.
The performance played up the strong accents, brusqueness and sheer bravado of the fast movements, but discovered surprising turns of phrase in the lyrical slow movement. If youthful brashness won out in the end, the introspective Beethoven also got his due.
The same qualities worked less well in Schumann's romantic masterpiece. The performance caught his stormy side but seemed to glide over his dreamy, inward states, especially in the love song of the slow movement.
At the center of the program were two rarities by the Czechs, Janacek's "Pohadka" ("A Tale") for cello and piano and Martinu's Three Madrigals for violin and viola.
The Janacek duo, Arron told the audience, was inspired by a Russian folk tale. With its narrative quality, unusual harmonies and passionate outcries, the piece seemed cousin to Janacek's "Kreutzer Sonata" string quartet, which was inspired by a Tolstoy novella by that name (which in turn was inspired by the so-named Beethoven sonata).
As the title suggests, Martinu's three madrigals take off from the old song form in which multiple voices play off against one another. Both pieces have folk roots. Where Janacek is dark and brooding, Martinu is light and joyful. These qualities were embraced in the spirited performances.
The players are part of a "Performing Artists in Residence at the Clark" series. They are making only two appearances during the current season but more would be welcome. They also deserve a larger audience than Sunday's half-full house.