Last night was the ninth time in eleven seasons that Friends of Chamber Music has welcomed the Han Finckel Setzer Trio to Vancouver. Over those years, this group of three intimate friends has jelled into what may now be the finest sounding piano trio. Outside of the trio, we know these master musicians from their other roles, whether as present and past members of the Emerson String Quartet or as co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
What made them choose to become a piano trio? There is great music by amazing composers for this ensemble! Piano trios emerged as a musical form when the piano was invented and refined, during the second half of the 18 th Century ACE. Joseph Haydn and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart pioneered music for the piano trio, as they did for the string quartet, and even for the symphony orchestras.
But it was one of Haydn’s students, the titan of the next generation of composers – yes, Ludwig van Beethoven, who evolved music for piano trios from elegant diversions to personal declarations of passion and poignance. And one of the cornerstones of the Classical piano trio literature (if not of all chamber music) is Beethoven’s final piano trio, in B-flat major, Opus 97 “Archduke”.
The ”Archduke” Trio gives all three musicians a chance to shine individually, as well as blending into a vibrantly dynamic and yet harmonious unit. The writing allows for flourishes and sweeps from all three, both together and alone.
But the music is not intentionally showy. Rather, it is all about conveying a range of emotions through melody, variation, and rhythm.
And for those melodies we enjoyed ravishing playing of extreme musicality from all three musicians! This was an “Archduke” to remember! Wu Han floated over the keys, offering hearty gusto or elegant delicacy, just as the music on the page demanded. And she blended ideally, never overpowering the violin and cello. Philip Setzer and David Finckel both delivered rich, clean string tones of great beauty in all ranges of their respective instruments, and from piano to forte.
After hearing this magisterial music, played with passion, deep feeling, and touches of lightness and sparkle, as well as fabulous technical skill, we in the audience felt exhilarated. Part of the buzz during intermission came from the expectation of what was to come.
Johannes Brahms must have been listening to his idol, Beethoven’s “Archduke” when the younger composer wrote his first trio, Opus 8. A cornerstone of Romantic chamber music, this trio extends Beethoven’s emotional range and turns up the virtuosic demands on all three musicians. All this while still demanding that the three musical voices work to blend as one. And these three exceptional artists met the demands of this music with all their energy and musicality. Their interpretation delivered all the excitement and ferocity, as well as the delicate quiet passages of the writing with supreme technical control and shaping for the whole work.
After a prolonged standing ovation punctuated by cheers from the audience following the Brahms trio, the Han Finckel Setzer Trio offered us a palate cleanser: the slow movement from Felix Mendelssohn’s first piano trio, marked Andante con moto tranquillo. An ideal gift to end our evening on a tranquil note after two masterworks of power and passion.
We’d like to thank everyone for coming out! Were you there? Leave your comments below, we’d love to hear them!