In the world of classical music today we frequently encounter musicians who are puffed up with self-importance and belief in their own press agentry. How refreshing it is, then, to be in the presence of artists whose performances are totally natural and focused on bringing out the best in the music they perform. This kind of submersion of self combined with superb instrumental and musical mastery is what characterized the music making we witnessed yesterday afternoon in Sunset Center hearing cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han perform the last concert in the Carmel Music Society’s 2013-2014 season.
From the opening notes of Bach’s Sonata for Viola da Gamba in G Major, BWV 1027, we heard expressive playing of the highest order combined with precise ensemble skills and a nice feeling for Baroque style. In the two slow movements, Adagio and Andante, we heard exquisitely and elegantly shaped phrasing, while in the faster movements the passages just rippled along effortlessly and convinced us this music couldn’t be performed any other way. The Beethoven Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, Op. 102, No. 1, that followed reinforced this impression of inevitability while impressing us with the solidity of musicianship both players displayed.
The Mendelssohn Sonata in D Major, Op. 58, which ended the first half of the afternoon’s program, a work with which I am not very familiar, was startling in its intensity and opportunities for virtuoso display. Both Finckel and Wu have equally important parts and sometimes I had difficulty deciding whether I was listening to a concerto for cello, or a concerto for piano. To hear Ms. Han navigating her way through millions of notes, lightly and effortlessly played, was a marvel to behold.
After intermission the program moved into the 20th century with an example of Debussy’s final surge of production during the last three years of his life – the Sonata for Cello & Piano, written in 1915. This important work represents a mixture of several influences, including French nationalism, impressionism, symbolism and a reflection on the classical style of the previous century. With this sonata Debussy contributed the most important work for cello since the two Brahms sonatas, and Finckel & Wu brought out the best in a superb performance.
The concert ended with Benjamin Britten’s Sonata in C for Cello and Piano. Op. 65, written in 1960-61. Finckel and Wu gave us a powerful performance that was ethereal and spiritual, full of disturbing beauty (what an exquisite and enigmatic lovely ending of its Marica movement), and full of surprises. This was a performance to remember and cherish.
After rousing applause and a standing ovation, we were rewarded with one encore, an arrangement of the Rachmaninoff Prelude in G-flat Major, Op. 32, No. 10, arranged for cello and piano in G Major. The lovely melodies were beautifully shaped by Finckel, and the amazingly complicated last page received a magnificent performance by Han that brought tears to the eyes.
Next year Finckel & Han will be returning to the west coast to perform a Russian Recital at UC Berkeley. The program will include cello sonatas by Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff and Shostakovich, plus Ms. Han will play some solo works by Scriabin. This sounds like a program worth the 250 mile round trip.