Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a treasurable disc of chamber music featuring three of the world’s most renowned practitioners of that art: David Finckel and Wu Han, who are husband and wife, are the first co-artistic directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center; Finckel is also the longtime cellist (set to retire by autumn 2013) of the Emerson Quartet. David Shifrin, who was the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s artistic director from 1992 to 2004, was the first (and still the only) wind player to hold that position.
The heart of the program consists of the two best-known trios for clarinet, cello, and piano. Aside from their instrumentation, and the fact that their composers are the two titans who stand like pillars at either
end of the 19th century, the two trios have little in common; Beethoven’s is an exuberant early work, while that of Brahms, written near the end of his life, is dark-hued and somber.
These players take a lyrical approach to the Beethoven, while not neglecting its high spirits. Their performance is a little more relaxed than that of Jonathan Cohler with Julia Bruskin and Donna Kwong; the two approaches work equally well. The exposition repeat in the first movement is observed. The first movement of the Brahms is contemplative and reserved, the second intimate and gorgeous, with long-spun lines and a lovely give-and-take between clarinet and cello. The dramatic finale, with its shifting meters, provides needed contrast. Throughout, Shifrin plays with a sweet sound and incredible breath control; no phrase is too long for him. He also plays the most beautiful pianissimos you’ll ever hear on a clarinet. Along with Shifrin’s own recording on Arabesque with Colin Carr and David Golub, this joins the ranks of the great recorded versions of this trio: those of Karl Leister, Georg Donderer, and Christoph Eschenbach (DG); Harold Wright, Jules Eskin, and Gilbert Kalish (Nonesuch); and Cohler, Bruskin, and Kwong (Ongaku).
If the Beethoven and Brahms are the heart of this program, then perhaps the Bruch pieces are its soul. Hyper-romantic, these small gems, which were originally written for clarinet and viola, call forth a splendid range of expression from these players, from playful (No. 7) to soulful (No. 6) to passionate and even heartbreaking (No. 3, which is placed last and will linger in the ear long after the recital is over). If one occasionally misses the timbre of the viola—the unison with clarinet at the reprise of No. 6 is an example—Finckel plays the alternate cello part with great conviction and effectiveness.
The recording gives more a sense of a hall than a studio; there is quite a bit of space around the instruments, although only Wu Han’s piano seems a bit recessive now and then. The most direct competition available is Cohler’s in the Beethoven and Brahms, although Shifrin scores in the choice of Bruch’s pieces as the third item on the program, as against Cohler’s Dohnányi Sextet. I wouldn’t be without either disc.
This CD can be purchased directly from Finckel’s and Wu Han’s website or through Amazon. Either way, don’t miss it. Highest recommendation!
-- Richard A. Kaplan, FANFARE [9/2012] Read less
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