NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — During a break between pieces, admirers in the audience walked up to the stage and used printed programs to fan the overheated musicians of the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio.
It was that kind of late afternoon Saturday as Tannery Pond Concerts opened the summer classical season with the estimable ensemble performing amid tropical heat in the former Shaker Tannery. The Shakers didn't use air-conditioning, and neither do their musical heirs.
Did temperatures affect playing? If you knew these fine musicians' work from their many previous Berkshire appearances, it was hard to draw any other conclusion. The performances of three standard works, which the group must have played dozens of times before, were short of the finesse it has shown over the years at South Mountain, for example.
Who can blame them? The players — pianist Joseph Kalichstein, violinist Jaime Laredo and cellist Sharon Robinson, to give them names — led with commitment and passion, but the playing, especially Laredo's, often sounded forced. Loudness substituted for intensity. Coordination between piano and strings was occasionally dicey. Still, passages that sparked or sang showed that the 38-year-old ensemble had not lost its touch.
The programming was about as traditional as a Memorial Day parade: Beethoven's Opus 11, Brahms' Opus 87 and Mendelssohn's Opus 66, No. 2.
The Beethoven work is an early one, bursting with youthful energy. The Brahms and Mendelssohn, by contrast, come from the composers' maturity and probe emotional depths. (In a talk from the stage, Kalichstein said the two later works are linked by parallel uses of C major and minor.)
Coming before intermission, the Beethoven and Brahms performances were similar in their struggles. In the Brahms, for example, the driving energy of the scherzo was not sufficiently offset by lyrical warmth in the gentler middle section. The Beethoven was graced by Robinson's heartfelt playing of the adagio's cello solo.
After intermission, as twilight fell and coolness filtered into the room, the playing gained in freedom, and greater subtleties of phrase and mood entered into the storm and stress of the Mendelssohn work. Mellowness in the andante provided a breath of relief from the prevailing drama. The ending emerged from shadows into exuberance.
Apparently because of the heat, a sizable part of the capacity audience left at intermission. And, for those who follow such things, Steven Ledbetter, former program annotator for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, has taken over from Clair Van Ausdall, who died earlier this year, as the series' annotator. Van Ausdall's notes will still be used for pieces repeated from his time.