Winter has struck Bristol pre-emptively this year, and finding a nice, warm place to hide on a Sunday morning is a good way to lessen the hold of its icy clutches. The bright, wood-panelled airiness of the ex-Methodist church that is St George’s Bristol can hardly claim to be the cosiest of rooms, but the “Coffee Concert” given by violinist Paul Barritt and pianist James Lisney was as intimate as any hearthside hideout. This superb duo shared a programme of two Beethoven violin sonatas separated by the world première of Jan Vriend’s Imagine a Mountain with their appreciative little audience, on a day when many might be forgiven for staying wrapped up by the fire.

After Barritt’s pithy introduction to the concert and its first piece, the Sonata in D Op. 12 no. 1, the young Beethoven announced himself proudly and assertively in the first movement’s unison arpeggiated opening. This is a very joyous, bright movement, and the duo’s tone matched it perfectly. Lisney knows the St George’s acoustic intimately, being a welcome regular feature on the venue’s listings, and his utmost sensitivity to the room’s unique reverberations, in which many pianists flounder, is the key to his continued success. Barritt’s playing was equally finely attuned, and the duo’s balance was quite simply a delight: one which carried on throughout the second movement’s theme and variations, and was particularly evident in the minor variation’s swells from pianissimo to fortissimo, the melody rising and falling with the dynamics in waves. The ensuing Allegro was another vibrant, youthful movement, and Barritt’s energetic playing – he really went for every accent and double stop – was wonderful to watch. It wasn’t all virtuosic violining, though: Beethoven swaps the parts over frequently in this movement, Barritt taking on as much an accompanying role here as his partner. Indeed, it was hard to tell who was enjoying the musical dialogue the most: the audience, or the performers themselves, who egged each other on like overgrown schoolboys towards the final barline. It was just such great fun.

After this jubilant beginning, the morning continued with a piece written especially for the duo by Dutch composer Jan Vriend, whose work features alongside that of Beethoven in each of the concerts in this series. Lisney gave the pre-performance talk-through for Imagine a Mountain, quoting from the composer’s introductory notes to the performer, which was perhaps not the kindest thing to do; it was rather a protracted spiel about the composer’s relationship with the compositional process, from which I gained little except that the eponymous mountain might be considered metaphorical for the work’s composition. Having said this, once the piece began (with an atmospheric twang from a plucked piano string), my imagination couldn’t help conjuring up oriental-style images of mist-shrouded mountains – prompted, no doubt, by the high portamenti in the violin part which evoked the sound of the erhu, or Chinese violin. This first movement contrasted sections of contemplative consonance, exploring violin harmonics in particular, with far more dissonant, frantic passages. The plucked piano string returned, combined with an excruciatingly effective sul ponticello drag from Barritt, to provide a great ending to an enjoyable movement. The remaining two movements of the piece were less satisfying: the second seemed far less structured than the first, despite being a theme and variations; the third would have benefitted from being more concise. This finale, “a break-neck dance at the mountain’s summit”, in Vriend’s words, combined rapid, rhythmically driven sections in complex time signatures with more meditative passages for each instrument. Barritt and Lisney, however high the altitude and vigorous the dance, certainly never seemed short of puff, but they did seem on less familiar territory in this contemporary work. Once the mountain was successfully negotiated, they could ascend to higher planes once more.

For Beethoven’s Sonata in G Op. 96 is an elevation of the genre. All the self-assuredness, the youthful panache of the D major Sonata is here refined, expanded and transcended. The perfectly formed first movement, with its opening trill motive returning blissfully and ingeniously throughout, was superbly poised; the gorgeous – classically Beethovenian – slow movement was exquisite in its piano beginning and was serenity itself as the violin took over, exploiting the beauty of the instrument’s mid-range; the very brief scherzo was lively (though a little confusing – is it really necessary?); and the last movement rounded proceedings off perfectly with its theme and variations form, in which the accented use of the double-stopped violin was reminiscent of the earlier work, as was the rascal-ish ending and the enthusiastic ensuing applause. Such musical brilliance certainly provided warmth enough for the happy band of listeners, who braved the outside world with an extra spring in their step after this delightful morning concert.