LOS GATOS -- Trio Cavatina totes the typical résumé for a young and well-groomed chamber group from New York: big awards, prestigious dates at Carnegie Hall and the like. But not every band with a fancy vitae plays like this one: Commanding and expressive, as exciting as it is refined, the trio performed here Friday, the first of three weekend concerts on a quick swing through the Bay Area.

Friday's concert was at St. Luke's Episcopal Church, a terrific "up close" venue with only 144 seats. Launching the 16th annual Sunset Concerts series at St. Luke's, Trio Cavatina brought along a varied program: youthful Beethoven, knotty mid-period Copland and mature, lushly turbulent Brahms. It also brought along a special guest: violist Samuel Rhodes, who played for 44 years with the Juilliard String Quartet -- and is the father of Trio Cavatina's superb violinist, Harumi Rhodes.

JANETTE BECKMANTrio Cavatina: Priscilla Lee, left, Ieva Jokubaviciute and Harumi Rhodes.
JANETTE BECKMAN Trio Cavatina: Priscilla Lee, left, Ieva Jokubaviciute and Harumi Rhodes. ( unknown )

The program began with Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat major, Op. 1, No. 1, a showcase for the trio: violinist Rhodes, cellist Priscilla Lee, pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute. The performance was exacting, graceful, full of energy -- in the spirit of young Beethoven, who was barely into his 20s when he wrote this piece, and begins it with blasts of broken chords up the keyboard.

The group "breathed," its phrases tailored, the "cut" of the performance achieved through a flowing choreography of dynamics and articulation. Perhaps the best part was the Adagio cantabile, full of touching hesitations and tender melody. A compelling player, Jokubaviciute feathered her passages as the strings sang out. Especially impressive here was Lee, who has a striking sound: focused, balanced, robust and open -- singing.

The senior Rhodes joined the group for Copland's Piano Quartet, which dates to 1950, the year the composer turned 50. Years before, he had abandoned serial composition, finding its methods somewhat stultifying. But he returned to it here, bringing meaning to the method, as Trio Cavatina demonstrated.

The opening Adagio serio begins (as the movement's title infers) with a tone row announced by the violin: an up-then-down sequence that gets advanced by viola and then cello. Friday, the mood was doleful, but not for long, as the composer's serial tricks led to something unexpected: a sense of the pastoral, a lot like classic Copland in its melancholy. Call it serial Americana.

The group's playing became bracing and dramatic; emotions mounted through this movement. In the lengthy Allegro giusto, which followed, the four players seemed to goad one another, teasingly, through the spiky themes and herky-jerky rhythms.

In the finale, Copland, playing the jester, inserts a "Three Blind Mice" theme into the piano part and later brings it back via the strings. But for all the serial craftiness and extended techniques of his Quartet -- retrograde themes, a variety of harmonics in the strings -- it ends with more pastoral effects and with this children's song. The group played it dreamily, with poignancy and grief.

The concert concluded with Brahms' Piano Quartet in C minor, Op. 60, "Werther." The four musicians dove straight into Brahms' emotional blast furnace: the boiling harmonies, thick and lush; the driving rhythms; the overall sense of earnestness and grandeur. The performance wasn't as spic 'n span as what had come before: There were occasional tuning issues and scratchy textures, and the group's sound sometimes swamped the small room.

Still, it was intense and exciting. This listener most enjoyed the evanescent textures of the Allegro non troppo; the Andante's drama, with its entwining strings; and violinist Rhodes' heroic outbursts through the finale. When it was over, her famous dad patted her on the back; nice job, kid. The program repeats this weekend in Carmel and Burlingame. Go.

Contact Richard Scheinin at 408-920-5069, read his stories and reviews at www.mercurynews.com/richard-scheinin and follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/richardscheinin.

Trio Cavatina

With violist Samuel Rhodes
When: 7 p.m. Sunday
Where: Kohl Mansion, 2750 Adeline Dr., Burlingame
Tickets: $15-$48; 650-762-1130, www.musicatkohl.org