The Young Lions, St John's, Smith Square, London

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The Independent Culture

It may have been Hallowe'en outside but the wizards were at work inside at one of the most sensational concerts I can remember.

It may have been Hallowe'en outside but the wizards were at work inside at one of the most sensational concerts I can remember. The Violoncello Society of London presented three fledgling cellists performing individually at St John's Smith Square. Billed as 'The Young Lions', Danjulo Ishizaka, Gavriel Lipkind and Li-Wei are all in their twenties, and all of them major prize-winners.

This could so easily have become a circus in the sense of "I can do anything better than you." But it says much about cellists that they not only like to share a stage - albeit consecutively - but positively exude good humour towards each other. (Such is generally not said of the violin fraternity.) Anyone who has dipped into Ralph Kirshbaum's Manchester Cello Festival will know full well the warmth that surrounds 'cello occasions'. And what an occasion this was!

First off was the German/ Japanese Danjulo Ishizaka, the youngest at 25, in works by Cassadó and Tchaikovsky. At once in Cassadó's Requiebros, Ishizaka's determination was palpable, pressing down hard on the strings but producing widely varying colours. It was in the soulfulness of the Tchaikovsky - the Pezzo Capriccioso and Rococo Variations - that the mature musician was exposed, wonderfully uniting the disparate Rococo into a seamless work. The elegant phrasing, the intent listening to himself, the risks taken but controlled, the noble sound, all announced a player of stunning gift.

Then came the Israeli, Gavril Lipkind. Two more contrasting players would be hard to find. And after the third player, Li-Wei, it became even more obvious that Lipkind is a total one-off. Brooding beneath a shock of black curls, he plays as if possessed. In none of his four works - Martinu's Variations on a Slovak Theme, Cassadó's Suite for Solo Cello, Wieniawski's Scherzo-Tarantelle or Popper's Serenade and Elfentanz - was there any sense of anything conventional. This was edge-of-your-seat, white knuckle playing, troubled and troubling, little given to the audience, little obvious enjoyment, ferocious technical difficulties breezed through. Only when he announced an encore in the softest voice - two movements by P. Ben-Haim which Lipkind dedicated to the tragedies of the Middle East - did he appear perhaps human.

And then it was the Chinese Li-Wei's turn. He already has a formidable reputation in the UK, having performed at the Proms to rapturous approval. The only player to perform 18th-century music, his Locatelli Sonata in D was simply breathtaking. Using the minutest amount of bow, he demonstrated up-bow and down-bow staccato at such speed and clarity as though it was something of no difficulty at all. After Schumann's Adagio and Allegro and Paganini's Variations on One String, an encore of Rostropovich's Humoresque was utterly awesome. Wonderful to see an audience dumbfounded.

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