The Fridge is the creation of Shelley Frost, a Dubai-based harpist who several years ago found herself swamped with work. She started gathering a stable of musicians to soak up the excess gigs, and so became an agent. Then she set up an office in a warehouse in Al Quoz, the nearest thing Dubai has to a bohemian district, and found that she had a venue, too. The recent series of Fridge concerts is the result: Frost's artists (for the most part), playing in Frost's space. The season has been running for eight weeks now, covering, well, the sort of stuff you'd expect the roster of a corporate entertainments agency to cover: jazz, R & B, a bit of light classical. It all seems slightly incongruous in the context of the Fridge's premises, which are grungy and industrial in a way that few musical venues in the UAE aspire to be. But the place has atmosphere, and buzz, and - to seal the deal - a Wagamama concession by the door.
It also has some intelligent programming. Monday night's free show, titled Through the Centuries, offered a thoughtful selection of chamber music recent and less so. It pulled off the difficult trick of being both diverse and coherent, opening with a sonorous Bach concerto, switching into manic mode for Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Flute and Piano, and then wrapping up with one of Astor Piazzolla's nuevo tango pieces - albeit one in which the Argentine composer's Baroque streak is more than usually present. The players were three women from across the former Soviet Union - the Belorussian violinist Anna Pavlova, the Ukrainian flautist Darya Tikhonova and the Russian pianist Tatyana Tarakanova - plus a male cellist, Aaron Kim, from Korea. All had turned in impressive performances by the end of the evening.
Yet the Bach, it must be admitted, made for a shaky start. This is surprising: the Double Violin Concerto is among the most popular chamber pieces around, a mainstay at the sort of wedding and corporate engagements that the Fridge caters for. Here the playing was hesitant: there were rhythmical discrepancies and some rather weak tones. We learnt that the flautist, here taking the first violin's part, had just the week before received her Masters in Ukraine; she looked in perpetual terror that someone would spring a viva on her. And so, while the Largo Ma Non Tanto movement was fluent enough, the Vivace and Allego seemed to sidle out of the starting gate. Rather than the austere repose that Bach commonly induces, one experienced roughly the same blend of pleasure and apprehensiveness that one gets in the hands of an unfamiliar hairdresser.
Things improved during the Poulenc. The skittishness of Tikhonova's flute, so ill at ease before, found a hospitable context in this late piece, less aggressively weird than some of the composer's material but still pretty peculiar: think Debussy with ADD and you're not far off. Poulenc always sounds like he's scoring some unfathomably eventful silent film: his work is full of the sort of tongue-in-cheek schmaltz (what he called "mauvaise musique"), abrupt transitions and emphatic discords that suggest a sped-up Fritz Lang fantasy. In other words, he's just the man to accommodate Tikhonova's tremulous, aspirated tone and impetuous trills. As accompanist, Tarakanova turned in sterling work, though it would have been satisfying to hear her let loose on a better piano: between the upright grand and the less-than-perfect acoustics of the venue, her playing got a bit lost in sonic murk.
The highlight of the programme was Piazzolla's Four Seasons, however. Pavlova returned on violin and we were introduced to Kim on cello for the first time: between them, the pair achieved a level of fire and precision - and evident delight - that set the evening on its ear. Pavlova's wrenched, helter-skelter glissandos introduced a welcome note of anarchy into the performance, supported by some focused and propulsive playing from Kim. The Pachelbel-ish conclusion to the Winter movement picked up the Baroque flavour of the start of the concert, but Spring's sultry chiaroscuro - Piazzolla-style tango at its most primal and dramatic brought the evening to a stimulating conclusion.
Next week's Fridge performance is, alas, to be the last of the present season: it promises an unusual combination of dance and photography, plus harp music from Lucy Delhaye. Quite what it will involve is difficult to imagine, but it sounds off-the-wall in just the way the UAE's live music scene could use. Here's hoping the Fridge has more where that comes from in the autumn.