It’s been a pleasure watching -and hearing- the Han Finckel Setzer Trio blossom into a brilliant and nuanced trio. Wu Han on piano, David Finckel on the cello, and Philip Setzer, violin, have played for us four times in the past six years and on Tuesday, January 12, 2016, they gave us yet another elegantly balanced, deeply felt rendition of music by Beethoven, Dvořák, and Shostakovich.
The trio combines the forces of Han and Finckel, a regular dynamic duo in recital for decades, co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, and Setzer, a founding and continuing member of the Emerson String Quartet, of which Finckel was a member for 34 years until 2013. This strong, intertwined background lends the trio a level of communication that is very intimate. Setzer and Finckel present a balance between them,the result of many shared concert seasons, recordings, and rehearsals. Wu Han’s training with Menahem Pressler is shining through more and more, heard in the balance and nuance she achieves with her partners on strings. Together, they sound remarkably unified; a single, in tune instrument.
The Beethoven piano trio, Opus 1 No. 2 in particular gave Wu Han a chance to shine, with delicate ornamentation behind the strings more reminiscent of Haydn or Mozart. After all, at age 25 and the start of his career, Beethoven was a Classicist rather than a Romantic composer. Opus 1 No. 2 is one of his first published works, that of a young man taking his place in the elegant world of classical music in Vienna. Han Setzer Finckel gave this a refined and bright reading; the music was measured and openly optimistic in sound.
Jumping forward in time from 1795 to 1890, Dvořák’s classic Opus 90 “Dumky” trio is a classic of the repertoire. It was the calling card of the Beaux Arts Trio for roughly 50 years! From the first passionate tones of the cello in the first dumka (a kind of Bohemian folk dance), we were in for a highly romantic performance by this Trio, filled with rich melodies and pointed rhythms. It is a particularly emotional piece, and much like his mentor Brahms’ trios, Dvořák gives all three instruments delicious and emotional singing lines within these transfigured dances that progress from slow and melancholic to fast and brilliant.
To round out the evening, we received a profoundly moving performance of Dmitri Shostakovich’s Trio No. 2, Opus 67. Composed during World War II, this is mature Shostakovich, marking also the first time that he included Jewish themed music in his writing. The Han Finckel Setzer Trio gave us a performance reminiscent of the cycle of Shostakovich string quartets we heard played by the Borodin Quartet in May 2015. This was profoundly powerful music, yet restrained and melancholic rather than out-of-control tragic. The biting irony was precise, almost surgical, and the tragedy clear in the music, while not upsetting the overall architecture of the piece. This beautifully balanced, yet emotionally compelling performance felt at once very public and surprisingly intimate.
The standing ovation that followed was understandable. This event was another example of the unique joy to be found in live performances of great music! Thank you to all who attended, and we hope to see the rest of you at our next concert.