Leila Josefowicz ticked all the boxes in this stunning recital: highly imaginative curation; musicality in every note; and a winning ability to communicate to the Wigmore Hall audience. The five works on offer cleverly showcased her wide range of expressive abilities and technical prowess. She balanced the new or rarely heard with works that were familiar and reassuring, but in unusual arrangements.

Leila Josefowicz © Chris Lee
Leila Josefowicz
© Chris Lee

Kicking off with the latter, Sibelius' Valse triste is something of a cliché in normal circumstances, but in this arrangement for violin and piano, sounding leaner and more passionately dark as it progressed. Josefowicz certainly made the most of its ambivalent mood and with her attentive accompanist, John Novacek, sensitive to her every nuance.

The duo followed this with the Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata no. 1 in F minor, one of the composer's toughest works, but also one of his greatest. Written over a number of years just before and during World War 2, it has passages which must have seriously put the composer at risk of being sent to Siberia, as well as some melting top drawer Prokofiev melodies. Josefowicz gave it her all, fittingly theatrical both in her playing and in her stage presence. The second movement Allegro brusco has some of most aggressive music Prokofiev had written since his rabble-rousing days in the early 1920s. Josefowicz threw herself into these slashing chords in as if her life depended on it; likewise, in the wild dance of the fourth movement. The magical moments at the end of the first and fourth movements and throughout the third, were brought off with equal amounts of delicacy and grace, the partnership between the duo being particularly intimate here. A devastating performance which left you in no doubt of the stature of this sonata.

Calices by the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho has much in common with the Profoviev in terms of its approach to the interaction of instruments and its juxtaposition of anger and calm. Beautifully shaped and crafted, Josefowicz and Novacek reached into every corner of the work, finding poetry and power throughout. It is definitely a work that deserves to be part of the repertoire of more violinists.

The arrangement of the Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony by Otto Wittenbecher was a resounding success. Beautifully laid out between the instruments, it made the work seem more touching than tragic. It was taken at a flowing tempo, which helped emphasise a lightness of touch. Josefowicz found a delicacy and fluidity of line here that was incredible.

But we hadn’t finished yet with the pyrotechnics. The final piece was a very rare outing for the Sonata for violin and piano by Bernd Alois Zimmermann. Finding a musical language not a million miles from the Prokofiev, but with Bartók, Hindemith and Weill in the mix, it nevertheless had a very distinctive flavour of its own. It is concise and sharp-tongued in the outer movements, but more rhapsodic in the Fantasia central movement. Again this mix of elements fitted Josefowicz like a glove and the energy she and Novacek brought to this music was breath-taking. Here was another woefully neglected work brought to blazing life.

This exceptional recital was rounded off by an encore to die for – a beautiful arrangement of Charlie Chaplin’s song Smile.