From the first minutes of Sergey Malov's Winner's Tour recital, it was clear the Russian had lost none of the musicianly showmanship which earned him top honours in last year's Michael Hill International Violin Competition.

He walked on to the stage with an ingratiating nonchalance, taking his time before giving John Psathas's Gyftiko the virtuoso workout it deserves.

This, one of the most effective of all the Michael Hill test pieces, gave Malov the opportunity to bare the gypsy in his soul and mesmerise us with the almost sculptural moves of his bow.

Michael Houstoun and Ashley Brown came on for Beethoven's Ghost Trio, bringing back fond memories of the trio's performance in last year's Michael Hill chamber music semifinals. There seemed a new joi de vivre, sparked off by Malov's exuberant violin.


A sense of unbridled energy ran through the whole work. The Largo found violin and cello entwined in poignant lyrical trysts, a welcome diversion from the gruffness of the town hall Steinway; Houstoun launched the Finale as an invitation to dance and his colleagues maintained the same spirit.

After interval, Malov came up with another solo turn - Ysaye's E minor Sonata - and real music emerged from its potential technical nightmares. First movement tranquillo passages were pure poetry and, after a mandolin-styled Sarabande, the composer's request for fiddling on the joyful side was taken to heart.

Malov and Houstoun brought a wonderful sense of spontaneity to Cesar Franck's celebrated Sonata; at times it could have been a living, breathing improvisation.

Houstoun drew out intimations of Ravel in the luscious harmonies and, even when the composer's inspiration runs thin in the final pages, the two men's unswerving ensemble sustained momentum.

An encore was quirky and welcome. Malov brought out his five-stringed violoncello da spalla and, holding this Lilliputian cello as if it were a guitar, deftly bowed his way through the Prelude to Bach's final Cello Suite.