The passion of Belgium MUSIC

Eugne Ysae and Friends Wigmore Hall, London
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The Independent Culture
Those tempted to measure a man's worth by the number of gifts bestowed on him will no doubt count the Belgian violinist and composer Eugne Ysae as a giant. Many of these gifts (Franck's Violin Sonata, Chausson's Concert and music by Saint-Sans, D'Indy, Magnard, Lekeu and Faur) feature in the Wigmore Hall's "Eugne Ysae and His Friends" festival.

Philippe Graffin, the festival's artistic director, studied with one of Ysae's last pupils, the late Josef Gingold. Yet Graffin's ripe, sweet- centred playing - occasionally discoloured by approximate intonation - is more reminiscent of Yehudi Menuhin.

Saturday's concert included a wholly remarkable performance of Ysae's seminal Pome lgiaque, one that underlined the musical continuity with Chausson's Pome of three years later. It followed the first featured Ysae dedication, Faur's pained but compelling First Piano Quintet, where Jeremy Menuhin launched the work's celestial arpeggios and the Chilingirian Quartet brought a confrontational intensity to bear on the great Adagio. Here the music's desperate gravitational pull suggested a last-ditch attempt at revisiting youthful passion, while the stormy finale recalled late Schumann. Wagner was of course a much stronger presence within the Ysae circle, to the extent that Faur and Messager could indulge a hilarious troll down the Rhine in their Souvenirs de Bayreuth, with is Magic Camp- Fire Music. Jeremy Menuhin and Pascal Devoyon compounded the fun with theatrical page-turns, and the audience loved it. But the "real" Wagner re-emerged with a vengeance in Chausson's cloud-buffeted Concert for solo violin, piano and string quartet, an unrelenting, darkly romantic score, where the tragic Adagio has Parsifal linger among its shadows.

Similar gusts of storm and stress opened Monday's concert, where pianist Christian Ivaldi and Trio BWV ignited Guillaume Lekeu's restless and discursive Piano Quartet. It was certainly a night of rarities, what with Saint- Sans's uncharacteristically formal First Quartet, a tightly argued tribute to the spirits of Schubert and Beethoven, tastefully garnished and with a catchy, off-the-beat Scherzo. The young St Lawrence String Quartet swayed to every quaver with unstinting enthusiasm, whereas Frederic Chiu took time to focus Liszt's arrangement of Wagner's "Liebestod". Still, he certainly pulled out all the stops for Alexis de Castillon's somewhat meandering Piano Quartet, where notably Schumannesque outer movements framed a Beethovenian Adagio and a quirky but endearing Scherzando. Again, Trio BWV exhibited a zealous professionalism. Was it great music? I don't think so, yet its gestures were compelling and its overall ambience very much in keeping with the festival's passionate spirit.

n The `Eugne Ysae and His Friends' festival is at the Wigmore Hall until 25 Feb. Box-office: 0171-935 2141