Northern Sinfonia’s season of music by Brahms and Schumann opened on Friday night with the very public statements of their first symphonies, and the following night members of Northern Sinfonia turned inwards to the introspective and private world of their chamber music.

Brahms was introduced to Schumann by the great violinist Joseph Joachim, and the three men were great friends. Tonight’s programme was glued together by a violin sonata that Brahms, Schumann and another friend, Albert Dietrich, wrote jointly for Joachim. The sonata was based around the musical motif F-A-E, which formed Joachim’s personal motto “Frei aber Einsam” (“Free but alone”), and brings to mind the Romantic idea of the wandering soul.

Kyra Humphreys opened the concert with the first movement of the sonata, Dietrich’s contribution, a lilting Allegro with themes based heavily around the F-A-E motif and played in a way that conveyed the composer’s obvious affection for the original dedicatee. Northern Sinfonia leader Bradley Creswick took over to play the movements by Schumann and Brahms after the interval. It was a good idea to separate Dietrich’s movement from the other two, for it stood alone as a lovely piece, which was better appreciated without comparison to the more subtle and better crafted offerings that followed it. Schumann’s final movement was the most virtuosic, ending in rapid, subtly varying scale passages which ar clearly a tribute to Joachim’s skill: Bradley Creswick played it with style and a sense of fun.

Introducing Schumann’s Piano Trio no. 2 in F, cellist Louisa Tuck spoke eloquently about her passion for Schumann, and how when she plays this piece, she can get so wrapped up in it that she forgets everything else. It was a lovely introduction that made me warm to the music immediately. The soulful second movement was given an expansive, luxurious feel as the melody passed around between the parts, and I enjoyed the fluidity of the playing in the faster parts of this movement.

The third movement was, as Louisa Tuck told us, “just a little bit evil”, and although it begins quite innocently with a folky, off-beat melody played in canon, it enters a darker harmonic world that had me transfixed. The mood lightens for the final movement, which contained some energetic cello passages, giving the piece a sense of restlessness that is present in much of Schumann’s music. I enjoyed the sense of communication between the three players throughout the trio – of all the chamber music combinations that Northern Sinfonia have generated in recent concerts, this grouping of Louisa Tuck, Bradley Creswick and pianist Kate Thompson was, I felt, the most successful.

It was said that Joachim immediately identified which composer wrote each movement of the F-A-E, and the lively Scherzo was unmistakably by Brahms, with his characteristic gruff sense of humour and the audience clearly enjoyed it. The driving triplet rhythm of the piano part re-surfaced in the Horn Trio that closed the concert. This lovely autumnal work was partly inspired by walks in the woods, and the melodies are full of rising fifths that suggest the call of the huntsman. The players took the faster movements at lively tempi, and the tireless drive of pianist Kate Thompson made the last movement of the Brahms very exciting, urging the players onwards to the music’s optimistic conclusion. There were times though when the players got a little too loud, particularly for the small Hall Two at the Sage Gateshead, but this was only a passing problem.

I have written before about how Northern Sinfonia’s orchestral performances of Brahms are free of any over-emotional indulgence, and the orchestra’s players brought the same approach to this deeply personal chamber piece. Peter Francomb’s horn was warm but understated, particularly in the slow Adagio, allowing the heartfelt melodies to speak for themselves, and Kyra Humphreys made the Adagio pianissimo absolutely magical. Brahms composed this movement in memory of his mother whose death was a huge loss for him. By avoiding any excessive display of emotion in their handling of this movement, the performers made it feel all the more as if we were intruding on a very private moment.