And by two exceptional, mature artists still in their twenties, my (now) good friend the New Zealand violinist Benjamin Baker and Hungarian-born pianist Daniel Lebhardt. It's slightly frustrating that I can't with a good conscience review Ben's concerts on sites like The Arts Desk any more - last time I legitimately did so was here - but this is my blog, so my rules, and you can believe what I write or not.
What I do know is that after 30-plus years in the business, I can tune into what's truly exceptional from a performer pretty quickly - whether it's in the all-ears circumstances of a recital or on those occasions where I put a CD on for pleasure, not for review - though there is pleasure, of course, in that too, but I'm always sitting there with a score, which in the former instance isn't usually the case. There something idiosyncratic and strongly communicative in the playing makes me stop and listen more intently. A PR sent me some Beethoven violin sonatas discs on DG featuring an artist she thought I might like to interview, Francesca Dego. Perfectly cultivated playing, nothing special, so - no thanks. Whereas in Ben's and Daniel's performance of Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata in a Young Classical Artists Trust Wigmore lunchtime recital last Tuesday, there was individuality from the start. And, it especially struck me, in two specific bars, starting with the last one here.
You couldn't take them in isolation; all musical argument springs from the relationship between one note and another. I was just wondering at the way both achieved a unanimous, atmospheric diminuendo on the final unison F of the central Andante con variazioni (above), fading to nothing, when Lebhardt burst in with the ff A major chord that launches the Presto finale.
Perfect timing, and the essence of drama in musical extremes.
It was a perfect pairing with Janáček's typically fierce, jagged and shining Violin Sonata (remember that Janáček also based his First String Quartet on the horrific drama of Tolstoy's novella The Kreutzer Sonata - I'm hoping that Ben's pal from Yehudi Menuhin School days, Jonathan Bloxham, might feature Terje Tønnesen's string orchestra arrangement of that in next year's Northern Chords Festival, with Ben and Daniel on hand to play the Beethoven original. Violinist and conductor/cellist teamed up, of course, at this year's superlative Europe Day Concert).
Fierceness and painful beauty were in perfect balance here - and the duo have been playing it a lot recently, not least on a tour of China. The encore was a surprise, serious and not showy - I was guessing some homage to Tchaikovsky or other, but by whom I couldn't guess. It turned out to be a Dumka by the young Janáček. Here's a film of Ben in the Sonata with another partner, Shir Semmel, at Ravinia's Steans Music Institute.
Ben's next London concert sees him tackling another Everest - Berg's Violin Concerto - in a fabulous programme from the Salomon Orchestra at St John's Smith Square on 16 October which also include's Schmidt's Fourth Symphony. Having heard the Second at the Proms - Vienna Phil under Bychkov, embodied now in a sensational recording - I can't wait to experience that one live, too.