Sunday, March 25, 2007

Review: Finckel & Han

Cellist David Finckel & pianist Wu Han
March 24, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond

David Finckel, cellist of the Emerson Quartet, and his wife and duo partner, pianist Wu Han, titled their program "The Unfolding of Music." It might better have been called "The Unmasking of the Cello."

The duo opened with Bach’s Sonata in G major, BWV 1027, and Beethoven’s Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69, works in which the keyboard is the leading voice – a dominent one when the keyboard is a Steinway in the hands of an assertive, temperamental musician such as Han.

The cello climbs to near-parity with the piano in Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro, Op. 70, and reaches it in Debussy’s Sonata and Britten’s Sonata in C major. In these works, the pianist reined in her tone sufficiently for the cello to be heard clearly.

Finckel is a cellist worth hearing. He's not flashy and doesn’t ooze with expressivity; he makes the instrument sing with unaffected sentiment, makes child’s play of the most ferocious technical challenges, and does so with utter clarity and dead-center pitch. He makes you wish Mozart had written solo cello music.

The two musicians were at their best in the quicktime give-and-take of the opening movement ("Dialogo") of the Britten and the off-kilter rhythms of the scherzo of the Beethoven sonata and the "Marcia" movement of the Britten sonata. (Britten wrote the sonata for Mstislav Rostropovich, who was Finckel’s teacher.)

The humor of Beethoven’s scherzo and much of the Debussy eluded them, but they made jocular work of the "Scherzo-pizzicato" finale of the Britten.

For an encore, they played the slow movement of Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata, hearts not on sleeve.