IN: Reviews

Finckel and Wu Han in Concord: Overheard


Wu Han and David Finckel (file photo)
Wu Han and David Finckel (file photo)

Cellist David Finckel and his pianist wife Wu Han are by no means unfamiliar figures either in Massachusetts or in the musical world at large (they were, after all, named Musical America’s Musicians of the Year in 2012). But since the reviewer booked to cover their recital on the series of the Concord Chamber Music Society on Sunday was indisposed, there is no normal review, and in its place BMInt Staff has assembled observations of the audience and overheard remarks from various quarters into this appreciation.

The program consisted of three challenging cello sonatas by major romantic composers—the very young Richard Strauss, Brahms, and Chopin. As familiar as these pieces are (with the possible exception of the amazing sonata by the 18-year-old Strauss, it is surprising to see a recitalist perform entirely without music, as Finckel did throughout the program. Wu Han used an iPad with the scores scanned and loaded into the unit, which had a foot mouse to turn pages backward and forward. Both of these elements aroused considerable interest among audience members, who sought demonstrations of the paraphernalia after the performance.

Aside from the excellent balance of the two instruments, what generally attracted most attention (judging from post-concert discussion) was the wide-ranging colors and superb articulation, which made each of the pieces vivid in appropriate ways—the youthful exuberance of the Strauss, the amber shades of the Brahms, and the expressive range of the Chopin, dramatic in the first, second, and last movements, and poised on a heartbeat in a realm of silence. Before beginning the performance of the Chopin, Wu Han spoke about the piece to the audience and noted that the magical third movement was the very first music she had Finckel had played together many years earlier; it clearly exercised a potent force over them.

One woman in the audience was particularly excited by the Chopin sonata; she explained that she had heard it performed by many of the leading players over the years but had always found it a rather boring piece. Not so this time: She felt he piece was played with such life that she immediately bought the duo’s recording, which was one of several offered for sale after the concert.

The artists had never played on this Concord series before, and they were very taken by the hall, the substantial audience on a beautiful springlike afternoon, and the fact that Wendy Putnam, the founder of the Concord Chamber Music Society, not only kept this successful series going for more than a decade, but did so while continuing her “day job” as a Boston Symphony Orchestra violinist. They encouraged the audience, at the beginning of the second half, to offer a round of applause in her behalf.

There was an even more enthusiastic round of applause after the Chopin, which induced the musicians to offer a breathtaking performance of a movement from Britten’s Cello Sonata in C, a movement bristling with novel instrumental devices carried off with such aplomb and expressive musicianship that jaws were agape, and the encore was rewarded with the second standing ovation of the concert’s close.

Penned by BMInt Staff, this is more appreciation than review.


2 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. My take (from “Being There”):

    It is refreshing to hear unfamiliar or unknown cello and piano pieces that are so perfectly played that they become instant friends. David Finckel and Wu Han’s performance demonstrated this, with the duo’s dynamics, touch, and liveliness that are the hallmarks of their playing. The best of the afternoon was the Chopin Cello Sonata, from the lush piano arpeggios of the openings, quickly followed by the fairly simple drawn-out melody. Again, we were treated to the pitch-perfect playing of Finckel — who played every piece without the score. No histrionics with his playing; all the emotion is in his bow arm and in his Gallic, expressive face. At the start of the Chopin after intermission, a member of the audience could be heard trying desperately to stifle a cough. Finckel looked in that direction, then tuned his cello — marking time. It was a gracious gesture.

    Wu Han explained to us afterwards how she can manipulate the iPad she uses to place repeats, and other marvels. Quite impressive.

    The Concord Chamber Music Society always attracts a full house; far from drawing simply from the local community, many of the knowledgeable audience come from Brookline, Bedford, Newton, Boston, Cambridge,… No wonder.

    Comment by Bettina A. Norton — March 28, 2013 at 12:01 pm

  2. For all you new fans of David and Wu Han, you may enjoy watching this recital, which I videotaped in May 2005, at Union College in Schenectady. This video has been authorized for YouTube by David and Wu Han personally.

    is for the complete concert from start to finish. Individual movements are also there.


    Comment by Don Drewecki — April 2, 2013 at 1:06 pm

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