For technical finish and musical insight, the Leopold String Trio have, by now, established themselves among those select few ensembles who can command a full house playing almost anything. But, in planning a two-concert survey of the Russian string-trio repertoire, they took an undoubted risk, and were rewarded on their first night by a half-full, if increasingly enthusiastic, Wigmore Hall.
Granted, the String Trio (1985) by Alfred Schnittke and the Trio in E flat by the formidable 19th-century pedagogue Sergey Taneyev remain rarities, while few probably even knew that Borodin wrote a string trio. Yet all proved well worth hearing, the Borodin, a student work originally written for two violins and cello, proving a charming, cleanly written set of variations on a plaintive G minor Russian folk song.
Taneyev's late four-movement E flat Trio, by contrast, revelled in a richness and power of sound that more than justified his reputation as "the Russian Brahms". Indeed, so resourceful was his permutation of every possible string-trio texture in his extended, perpetually evolving opening movement that one hardly noticed that the basic ideas had little of the melodic freshness of his teacher, Tchaikovsky.
Utterly different again, Schnittke's Trio comprises a 26-minute, two-movement elegy commemorating the death of Alban Berg, in style ranging from near-tonal citations to anguished tone clusters, with sudden, unaccountable incursions of minimalist sequences. Sounding much of the time like the next step on from late Shostakovich, its sustained gravity is impressive, though not even the intense concentration of the Leopolds could quite preclude the suspicion that it would be stronger still for the loss of five or 10 minutes.
But these players went on to surpass themselves in Beethoven's String Trio in G. Here, the subtly inflected vivacity of Marianne Thorsen's violin, the husky humour and warmth of Lawrence Power's viola, and the dramatic definition of Kate Gould's cello, their perfection of intonation and ensemble, and a continuing sense of unexpectedness in a score they must, by now, have played a hundred times, were a joy.