The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, after a twenty-year hiatus, resumed its annual residency at the Colony Theatre in Miami Beach with a pair of concerts, beginning aptly with this recital by the Society’s co-artistic directors, David Finckel and Wu Han. Their program spanned some 250 years from the Baroque (Bach) to twentieth-century Modern (Britten), with stops along the way in the Classical (Beethoven) and Romantic (Mendelssohn) periods, with an allusion to the surge of Nationalistic music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (Albéniz).
The husband-and-wife duo’s approach to J. S. Bach’s G-major Viola da Gamba Sonata was as respectful to the Baroque style as performance on modern instruments allows. Their playing was spirited in both the slow and fast movements that alternated in Bach’s trio sonata format. Finckel’s trills and other ornamentation provided delightful counterpoint to Wu Han’s melodic line, particularly in the Allegro moderato finale.
Beethoven’s C-major Sonata, the fourth of his five works in this form, echoes the slow-fast, slow-fast trio sonata structure just heard in the Bach, but Finckel’s playing contrasted strikingly with his more restrained role in the earlier work. Following the expressive cello melody in the introductory Andante, the Allegro began explosively with Finckel superbly negotiating its rapid-fire passagework, his instrument then singing out gorgeously before teaming with Wu Han to bring the opening movement to a spectacular conclusion. In the second movement, Finckel showed off the cello’s entire range, from the open C-string up to its highest registers, and engaged in playful dialogue with Wu Han’s piano.
The first half of the program ended with Mendelssohn’s D-major Sonata. The rhapsodic cello theme in the opening Allegro assai vivace shone gloriously, and Finckel contributed both agile pizzicatos and sweet lyricism in the Allegretto scherzando. Wu Han’s harp-like arpeggios in the Adagio accompanied a gorgeous cello melody, after which the players reversed roles with the cello’s sustained low note harmonizing the piano’s tune as the movement ended. The Finale was a showcase for Finckel’s virtuosity, both in rapid passages and in pizzicato punctuation of Wu Han’s piano figures.
After intermission, Wu Han gave an atmospheric account of three selections from Isaac Albéniz’s Suite española, each reflecting the composer’s impressions of a Spanish city. Albéniz’s rather introspective serenade to ‘Granada’ was followed by the bouncy and folk-like depiction of ‘Cádiz’ to which Wu Han swayed as she played, and finally by the percussive triple-meter flamenco dance of ‘Sevilla’.
The recital ended with a remarkable performance of Britten’s Cello Sonata, written for Mstislav Rostropovich, who was Finckel’s teacher. Britten worked with ‘Slava’ to create a piece that would pose innovative challenges for the artist while exploring the technical capabilities of the instrument. Watching Finckel produce his cello’s sounds was so utterly fascinating that an audio recording of this work could not possibly do it full justice!
The Dialogo’s oddly paced interchanges between the instruments gave way to smoother melodic passages, culminating in the cello’s high harmonics. The Scherzo-pizzicato called on the cellist to pluck, and at times strum the strings, ending with both hands moving furiously just above the bridge. The Elegia brought out the soulfulness of the principal theme as the emotional intensity of the music rose and fell, with Finckel’s slowly rocking bowing especially noteworthy. In the Marcia, however, he was less than completely successful in simulating a second-rate marching band passing by. The Moto perpetuo was brilliant, with Finckel playing with a bouncing bow and later moving both hands at dazzling speed to delineate the rondo theme.
The duo offered an encore: a tender rendition of Debussy’s La fille aux cheveux de lin – The Girl with the Flaxen Hair – from his Préludes, Book I.