THE fifth anniversary of the York Chamber Music Festival began in the University of York music department.

Last Thursday's opening concert brought together five top-drawer musicians in Steven Isserlis (cello), Ian Brown (piano), Irène Duval (violin), Anthony Marwood (violin) and Eivind Ringstad (viola). Isserlis curated a concert that seemed to cover the world of chamber music from all angles.

Marwood and Brown began with Brahms’s Scherzo from the collaborative F-A-E Sonata, entering the context surrounding the unique friendship between Johannes Brahms, Robert Schumann and Clara Schumann.

The programme also featured a rare opportunity to hear the slow movement of Schumann’s Violin Concerto in a new form, discovered and arranged for piano trio by Isserlis. This intimate setting brought the players on a more equal level for this unfolding violin elegy.

Captivating interaction continued in Fauré’s only string quartet, Op. 121 in E minor. Multiple melodic lines played by Marwood, Duval, Ringstad and Isserlis came together in complex textures.

Playing to the cello’s lyricism, Messiaen’s Vocalise Etude had a haunting vocality, as cello and piano recreated this intimate 20th-century piece.

A highlight was Beethoven’s demanding Cello Sonata in A major. This full-bodied performance conveyed an equal power balance between cello and piano, but Isserlis also allowed his 1726 Stradivarius space to sing.

Full of dynamism and expressive power, this concert was a splendid opening to an exciting festival that continues this Friday and Saturday.

Review by Owen Burton