‘Schubert’s A minor’ is a prefix that rolls off the tongue of concertgoers everywhere with the comfortable familiarity of a home-cooked meal. With a wealth of works in the key, including his famous Arpeggione Sonata along with three of the 21 piano sonatas and a whole host of songs and shorter works, to call A minor a key in which Schubert clearly felt happy composing would not be too strong a statement, and so to discover that the programme I was about to hear included both the Schubert Violin Sonata in A minor, D.385, and the well-loved Brahms Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 108, instantly raised my hopes for a spectacularly intense evening of music played by Lana Trotovšek, violin, and Yoko Misumi, piano.

The duo first musically met as two thirds of the Greenwich Trio, and their previous collaboration certainly stood them in good stead for tackling the demands of the programme. The shared tone of the pair was always wonderfully balanced, and their security and ease as musicians with each other was telling from the outset: the pair were never restricted to merely mimicking each other, but beautifully complimented each other’s playing with a sense of individual and combined musical flair.

To start, the duo began with the Schubert sonata, the second of three violin sonatas composed by Schubert in 1816. Misumi’s playing in the opening had a dainty pearlescence, wonderfully heightening the contrast with the responding phrase as the violin rips through the texture with its ferocious entrance. Trotovšek’s bow ablaze, the Allegro moderato continued to gallop swiftly along with passion and an impressive commitment to squeezing every last inch of excitement out of the dynamic contrasts. The Andante gave broader scope for Misumi to play with more assertiveness, and the lyrical passages shared by the pair simply melted together with such ease and clarity that it was a joy to watch – their musical breathing was consistently that of a duo as opposed to a partnered violinist and pianist. The third movement tripped along cheekily enough in the Minuet; the Trio, while very sensitive in interpretation, would have held together better with more poise and a stricter tempo, but the attention to detail in articulation and phrasing was once again impressive. The final Allegro was fiery, if a little too tempestuous at times to ensure complete control over the tone, but still a fantastically exciting end to such a whirlwind of a piece.

To follow was a more unusual item, Baal Shem by Bloch, a suite of three pieces composed in 1923 and based on scenes from the life of a Hasidic Jew. The first movement, ‘Vidui’ (meaning ‘Contrition’), had an almost vocal quality in the violin melody, which Trotovšek navigated with great intensity of feeling. The second movement, ‘Nigun’ (‘Improvisation’), was sonorous and intense. Misumi’s depth of tone here was admirable – the very beds of the keys seemed to resonate in places. The final movement, ‘Simchas Torah’ (‘Rejoicing of the Law’), was brisk and triumphant and an exquisite end to such a vividly descriptive set of pieces.

The pair concluded their programme with one of the warhorses of Romantic violin-piano repertory, the Brahms Sonata no. 3 in D minor, Op. 108. The texture throughout was rich and yet translucent, a welcome change from the overbearingly heavy interpretations that Brahms is sometimes subjected to. The focus of the Allegro undulated between violin and piano seamlessly; the Adagio was well paced with an ardent grandeur from beginning to end. The Poco presto showed off the cohesion of the pair to the full once again, Misumi’s flourishes and Trotovšek’s pizzicato perfectly matched to each other in tone and colour. The final Presto agitato was exciting and embodied the pair’s playing for the entire concert: a wonderful display of controlled dynamism, comfortable to watch yet leaving you itching to jump off your seat and give rapturous applause at the end.

After being pressed for an encore by enthusiastic applause, the pair returned with the Meditation from Massenet’s Thaïs. An audience favourite and perfect encore material, this proved a suitably pensive winding-down for such a deliciously moreish programme, and the violin and piano sang together with a blissful sense of closure: a wonderful ending to a wonderful evening of music.

Strawberry Gala, at Sutton House, Homerton High StreetMadelaine Jones reviews the end-of-season Strawberry Gala at Sutton House with Lana Trotovšek (violin) and Yoko Misumi (piano).4