Given reports that an earlier instalment of this Jerusalem Quartet tour had been disrupted by protesters, it's pleasing to be able to write that there were no such disturbances here. It's a good thing too, because nothing should overshadow the exquisite music-making of this Israeli quartet, joined here by Russian pianist Alexander Melnikov. Melnikov and the quartet blended very well. There were occasional slips of coordination, and more than once this justly acclaimed pianist spent several bars slightly ahead of the string players, but for the most part there was an unusual unanimity of purpose.

With only two works from Schumann's 'chamber music year' of 1842 on the billing, some might have considered the programme, as on the new album this tour promotes, a little brief. Yet they are works which find Schumann at the height of his powers, and which have obvious connections, not least of key signature. The later Piano Quartet (with only violin, viola, and cello) was given first, and was marginally the more involving of the two performances. Immediately in the opening movement the reduced Jerusalem Quartet's sound was vibrant: big, dark in an old-fashioned Germanic way, and bristling with ardour. The quivering sustained chords which start the work were almost Beethovenian in their profundity, impeccably balanced with Melnikov's probing, rising figures peering through the mists. Properly symphonic in its structural command, what struck most was this movement's intensity. Counterpoint was effortlessly underlined, showing both how close some of Schumann's music was to Mendelssohn's and yet how far away, all four instrumentalists acting as individuals within the group. The scherzo was rightly Mendelssohnian, but with venomous teeth. The sharp, staccato attack suggested something disjunctive and sinister, particularly in the pizzicato sections of the unexpected second trio (though the bridges between scherzo and trios might have been more clearly managed). With Schumann finally giving way to rhapsodic lyricism, Kyril Zlotnikov's treatment of the slow movement's solo cello line was searingly beautiful, not least because of a restraint in phrasing, ably echoed by Alexander Pavlovsky's violin. Recalling the stillness of the opening bars and the scherzo's first trio, this movement was perhaps a little flat at times, especially when Melnikov and the string trio disconnected. Nevertheless, the finale was thrilling, Schumann's chromaticism sitting uncomfortably next to fragments of late Schubert.

Restored to a full complement of players, the Piano Quintet, also in E Flat, was less intense but more multi-faceted. Even with the addition of Sergei Bresler's second violin, the tone here was much lighter. Melnikov was in dreamier mood too, letting the piano take on more of the spotlight and with a greater focus. Again in the opening Allegro brillante there was a sense of structural command, a sense of true arrival at the recapitulation after a ferocious development section. Anxiety characterised a deeply hesitant slow movement, its march rhythms more pervasive than on this ensemble's new disc. Breathy of tone, it reached only the half-lyricism as Schumann's short-lived moods suggest, yet was kaleidoscopic in tone. As in the Quartet, brief solos from Pavlovsky and Zlotnikov reached rapturous highs, but the final bars, with a twang of harsh second violin tone nudging against a seraphic final chord, indicated deeper tensions. Propulsive drive returned to the scherzo, even in its trios, with a whirling, demonic coda again showing Schumann's chromaticism. Tonal instability, taking its key from that coda, dominated the final movement, the shimmering dark of the quartet's sound giving a great sense of intrigue to the chasing key changes. Finally reaching the home key in rambunctious style, its triumphant ending capped a superb concert.

Jerusalem Quartet; Alexander Melnikov piano, at Wigmore HallDavid Allen reviews the Jerusalem Quartet and Alexander Melnikov in Schumann's Piano Quartet and Piano Quintet at the Wigmore Hall.4