Review: Pianist's fine support sets Astral trio's tone

Exhibit One in the case for Astral Artists as a wise talent-spotter is Alexandre Moutouzkine, the Russian-born pianist who has spent the last half-dozen years impressing local listeners in a variety of chamber music, solo-recital, and concerto appearances. His latest coup was Sunday at the Trinity Center for Urban Life, where he joined two other superb Astral "graduates" in piano-trio repertoire that stretched the genre a bit.

In January, Moutouzkine will step into the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society's solo spot (with Rachmaninoff's Thirteen Preludes and Schumann's Carnaval), but on Sunday his role was that of colleague, and an attentive colleague he was. He constantly looked over to violinist Ayano Ninomiya and cellist Clancy Newman to anticipate an entrance or time a passage in Beethoven's Piano Trio in G Major, which no doubt contributed to the feeling, in the galloping last movement in particular, that this was a puzzle whose pieces were tapped into place with a great deal of thought and preparation.

Pianist Alexandre Moutouzkine performed on Sunday at the Trinity Center for Urban Life.

But Moutouzkine wasn't merely attentive. He was beneficence playing out in real time - and having influence. After the pianist's upward-moving rush of notes popped up in the noble second movement like so many pizzicato notes, their shape and weight were echoed later in a downward gesture by the violin. In a low doubling with cello, Moutouzkine nestled firmly within the bloom of that sound.

One of Moutouzkine's most compelling qualities is a rhythmic crispness that stems from landing on the forward edge of the beat (while never rushing). This quality contributed enormously to the verve in Smetana's Piano Trio in G Minor, which spills over with emotion; all three players captured its crevices of drama and, in places, surprising ambiguities.

The program's second half was overtaken by more populist spirits: a movement from Lera Auerbach's Triptych - The Mirror With Three Faces. The movement - with a name that takes longer to say than the music takes to hear: "Folding - Postlude (Right Exterior Panel)" - might have left you feeling that a haze of friendly ectoplasm had floated into the room. It didn't seem like important repertoire, and neither did the Café Music by Paul Schoenfield. But both were good-humored works by living composers that at least gave the piano trio a contemporary reference in the minds of listeners.