From Bach to 2007 creation, Finckel, Wu Han mesmerize

Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, one of the great partnerships of the age, performed Friday

Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han, one of the great partnerships of the age, performed Friday night at Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the 39th International Festival of Chamber Music.

They presented a diverse and richly tapestried program that thrilled the large crowd. They began with Bach’s Sonata for Viola da Gamba in G Major. Written for one of Zimmermann’s coffehouse concerts where Bach was the music director when he wasn’t running the show at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church, the four movement piece is very lively with constantly interweaving lines and lovely lyrical melodies for the cello. The frequency that the players exchanged melodies made it seem like an exuberant conversation.

Schumann’s rarely performed Adagio and Allegro of 1849 was also a dialogue but a far more romantic one. Finckel spun out his lush, rich tone in the Adagio in strongly nuanced and naturally phrased long lines. Wu Han hovered over the keyboard to play the sometimes soft passages that were like whispers. The Allegro erupted with fire and wonderfully swirling lines. The duo was a perfect match for intensity, passion and projecting a joyful elan. Wu Han maintained excellent balances.

Their partnership was put to the test in Pierre Jalbert’s compelling and distinctive Sonata (2007). Wu Han told the crowd that Jalbert was one of 110 composers whose work she listened to when the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which she and Finckel direct, wanted to commission new work and award a $20,000 prize. Jalbert’s work impressed her immediately, which resulted in commissioning this piece, she said. She promised the crowd “it will be in shock after this piece.”

Jalbert’s language involved cello effects, such as harmonics, low tremolos, and double stop glissandos, and the piano had to pluck various strings, but these were used tastefully without being too clever. Rhythm and color were the backbone infused with a dry, jazzy wit as well as haunting, eerie atmospheres. The duo had to match articulations and entrances had to be extremely precise yet everything was done with matchless skill, great vigor and a non-stop focus.

Then they relaxed to play one of the most gorgeous sonatas in the repertoire: Franck’s Sonata in A Major, which Finckel arranged for cello. It was marvelous playing on every level and brought great cheers and a standing ovation from the crowd.

The next concert on the series is Nov. 27 with mezzo-soprano Christianne Stotijn.

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