For my first live concert since March this was a stunner. The final event of the Ragged School Museum Festival, sadly truncated, it brought together several of the music world’s young stars, alongside one of the greats from several generations ahead. The space in the wonderful Victorian museum, tucked away at the heart of the blitzed East End, created an irresistible intimacy and directness.

Samson Tsoy and Nicolas Baldeyrou in rehearsal
© Eva Vermandel

The interesting juxtaposition of Brahms and Shostakovich, with both having fire and ice in their hearts and a never-ending supply of inspired music ideas, worked splendidly. Brahms' late Clarinet Sonata no. 1 in F minor, Op.120 no.1 is a passionate work which belies its autumnal status. Nicolas Baldeyrou gave a performance of understated passion which ideally suited the work. The soloistic accompaniment was brilliantly despatched by Samson Tsoy. 

In the Waltzes for Piano, Op.39, Brahms was writing for the domestic market. The piano duet form was hugely popular at the time and a sure-fire money spinner for the composer. However, nothing about these sixteen short pieces is cynically commercial, each one is a miniature gem. The honours were shared by an embarrassment of pianistic riches with Samson Tsoy being joined by Pavel Kolesnikov and Elisabeth Leonskaja. And with the combinations of pianists alternating, interesting and varied results were produced. For the final two Waltzes, all three joined forces in a gesture of fun and musical unity.

Elisabeth Leonskaja and Pavel Kolesnikov
© Eva Vermandel

Shostakovich's Piano Trio no. 2 in E minor is a wartime work of ferocity and pessimism, but despite that it is a strangely uplifting experience. Leonskaja was here joined by Alina Ibragimova and Andrei Ioniță. The combination of these three Slavic musicians brought a rare authentic commitment to the proceedings. Leonskaja was perfectly attuned to the challenges of balance in the piece, while Ibragimova played as if her life depended on it. 

In the oddly ambivalent opening movement, unusual combinations of instrumentation add to the disconcerting atmosphere, with the cello playing the top line in harmonics and the violin gruff in its lowest register. The violent Scherzo was played with such force here that it felt as if the whole movement would collapse into chaos, but was never at risk of doing so. The bleak respite of the Largo was delivered here with maximum emotion and superb accuracy of technique. The manner in which the sarcastic humour of the Finale was delivered saw the Slavic roots of the musicians at their most authentic and utterly riveting.  

It’s hard to explain in words why this concert was so special. The building, the dislocated times and superb musicianship all somehow coalesced to produce an unforgettable musical experience.