In this programme packed with Romantic intensity, the Russian Lomeiko-Zhislin duo demonstrated their versatility and ingenuity in crafting a programme of varied instrumental combinations.

Zhislin Yuri & Natalia Lomeiko credit: Sasha Gusov
Zhislin Yuri & Natalia Lomeiko credit: Sasha Gusov

First they were joined by pianist Katia Skanavi for three pieces by Bruch, whose skill as a miniaturist was reminiscent of Grieg and Dvorak in its persuasive lyricism. This was an ideal appetiser, opening with a beautifully phrased piano introduction and dark viola sonorities contrasting with the fleeting, almost weightless central piece in the trio. The brooding intensity reached a climax in the third piece, with repeated piano chords and a strident unison from violin and viola.

The piano was absent from the two works that followed, allowing us to hear what the two string soloists were really capable of. The Ysaÿe Sonata was characterised by fearsome double-stops and a dense, highly chromatic counterpoint that was unrelenting throughout. Referred to by his contemporaries as the ‘King of the Violin’, Ysaÿe’s Sonatas for solo violin are in a similar vein, pushing the boundaries of what was possible on the violin in much the same way that Liszt did for the piano.

To the unknowing listener, this sounded like rather more than just two violins, as the instruments were able to mimic a variety of orchestral effects. This lengthy work ran the gamut from imitative fugue to an exuberant conclusion reminiscent of the ‘gypsy’ violin style of playing, complete with pizzicato and sparkling artificial harmonics. In Martinu’s ‘Three Madrigals’, Zhislin swapped his violin for the viola in a work that explored instrumental colour, such as the chattering of bird-like trills in the highly effective second movement. These two challenging works served as a lesson in the possibilities of solo strings, capable in themselves of creating a rich and varied sound world.

The highlight of the evening was Brahms’ Trio op. 40, more commonly known in the version for Horn and Violin (the horn replaced here by viola). Like the Bruch pieces which opened the programme (where the more commonly heard clarinet version was replaced by violin), the use of a string combination lent the work a greater homogeneity, though sometimes at the cost of obscuring the independence of each part.

Here the trio perfectly captured the warmth of the opening gesture, with just enough of an ominous hint at the impending darkness in the melancholic Adagio mesto (‘sadly’). This was offset by an almost military finale, which raced along with its pentatonic bugle call.

The musicians seemed to breathe a sigh of relief in the two Shostakovich encores, ‘Elegie’ and ‘Polka’, the latter with a sense of grotesquerie and mischief created by a false diversion into ‘serious’ music before concluding abruptly. However, one couldn’t help but wish they had been able to inject the same vitality and spirit into the rest of the programme, which, for all its skill and accomplishment had a laboured seriousness which eventually became somewhat exhausting for the listener.