Jerusalem's International Chamber Music Festival got off to a strong start late last week, meeting chamber fans' high expectations with its opening night presentation of outstanding and rarely performed works by two great composers. The pieces, Piano Trio No. 2 by Shostakovich and Fratres by Arvo Part, were superbly played by violinist Gidon Kremer, pianist Elena Bashkirova - who also directs the festival - and cellist Claudio Bohorquez. Shostakovich's Piano Trio begins with a degree of subtlety not normally associated with the composer. An equally uncommon solemnity follows in the Trio's third movement, while remaining sections showcase the energetic style more representative of the Soviet composer. Part's Fratres, by contrast, explores the contrasting sounds of the piano and violin, which here alternately opposed and blended into one other. The style of the piece was pleasantly unconventional, with the three performers' playing their parts almost as if they were performing separate pieces. It was an enchanting miniature masterpiece. Despite the night's high points, the festival's opening concert ran too long, and its first half, essentially a warm-up, felt more and more superfluous as the night went on. It's unlikely anyone in the audience would have objected had it been omitted altogether. Kremer remained the dominant musical personality in the festival's second night, contributing a remarkable performance of Bach's Chaconne that made his solo violin sound like a full orchestra. Kremer also effectively served as ensemble leader in a performance of Schnittke's Piano Quintet, bringing balance to performances by Bashkirova, Bohorquez, violinist Boris Brovtsyn and violist Alexander Lagosha. Festival organizers made a good decision in presenting this little-known work, a profoundly disturbing and depressing composition. The piece abounds in originality - at one point insistently repeating a single note and elsewhere becoming a waltz that sounds ironic at first and later grotesque. The work persuasively conveyed the mood of its composer, a sensitive musician struggling to make sense of post-World War II Europe. The festival, which runs through September 12, struck a lighter note in its third evening, with percussionist Andrei Pushkarev attempting to improve on Bach in his own arrangement of Inventions, and in a selection from the Musical Offering in which he was accompanied by Kremer. Piazzola's Milongas for violin, piano and vibraphone was also amusing. Pushkarev brought a circus-like virtuosity to his playing, with Kremer and pianist Kirill Gerstein joining in the fun. Lagosha, cellist Giedre Dirvanauskaite and violinists Boris Brontsyn and Miroslava Kotorovich also amused on Shostakovich's Pieces for String Quartet, a composition that provides rare glimpses of the Soviet musician's own satirical sense of humor. Shostakovich's Sonata for cello and piano, performed by Bohorquez and Saleem Abboud Ashkar, was genuinely moving in its slower sections but lacked the required sparkle in its faster ones. The Carmel Quartet sounded tired and indifferent as it played Schumann's String Quartet No. 3 - an understandable shortcoming at the end of such a long concert.