Pianist Wu Han, cellist David Finckel and their guest, violinist Philip Setzer, brought two of Schubert’s gems Sunday afternoon to Union College’s Memorial Chapel as part of the 37th International Festival of Chamber Music.
The concert was also one of the few times Wu Han and Finckel have had a guest to play an entire program. Setzer, however, is no stranger but a longtime colleague of Finckel’s through their membership in the Emerson String Quartet.
Only two pieces were on the program: Schubert’s Piano Trio in B-flat Major, Op. 99 and his Piano Trio in E-flat Major, Op. 100. Both were composed within weeks of each other and shortly before Schubert’s death in 1828 at age 31. So memorable is the music that at intermission Wu Han told the capacity crowd that she wanted to thank not only Setzer for playing with them but Schubert.
“For so much feeling and so much inspiration … we’re so lucky to have music in our lives,” Wu Han said.
The trios are quite different. Op. 99 is light and joyous with lilting, hum-able melodies that intertwine and ingratiate. Beethoven’s presence infuses Op. 100 with a grander piano part, a darker harmonic language and more drama scattered throughout.
Despite both works’ lyricism and sections that would seem to indicate a delicate, more transparent touch, they did not receive that here. Rather, the musicians infused both pieces with a vigorous, earthy energy that was very modern in tone. Dynamic levels were often big, even orchestral. Wu Han’s hair flew with her exertion. The intensity level was also quite high and none can bring greater focus to their work than these three musicians.
The players produced a robust sound and with all that volume and forcefulness, the music fairly jumped off the page. Everyone’s technique was razor sharp. The ensemble work was tight and communicative.
They began with Op. 99. The first movement, which is quite long, spun out the melody over and over in various manifestations before a burst of speed and new material signaled the coda and end. Finckel and Wu Han opened the second movement with an eloquent solo that had generous nuances. Rhythms throughout were emphasized and sound levels were finer etched. The third movement was playful and quick, and the final movement flew with buoyant, charming melodies that transgressed into other diversions in mood and tonality.
Op. 100 was dramatic from the start with a bigger sound, swirling scales and strong pulses. The second movement was memorable for its mystery and wild surges of energy. The third movement was darkly edged and the finale with its tremolo and repeated note melody was novel and inspired.
Meanwhile, at intermission the crowd mobbed the stage to buy up the CDs that had the Schubert trios on them. So many were purchased that Wu Han, who had intended to sign them after the concert, asked for a rain check until a later date.