Sunday, January 27, 2013, 4pm
Saint Anthony Park United Church of Christ
Pre-concert Discussion • 3pm
Cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han rank among the most esteemed and influential classical musicians in the world today. The talent, energy, imagination, and dedication they bring to their multifaceted endeavors as concert performers, recording artists, educators, artistic administrators, and cultural entrepreneurs go unmatched. Their duo performances have garnered superlatives from the press, public, and presenters alike.
In high demand year after year among chamber music audiences worldwide, the duo has appeared each season at the most prestigious venues and concert series across the United States, Mexico, Canada, the Far East, and Europe to unanimous critical acclaim. London's Musical Opinion said of their Wigmore Hall debut: “They enthralled both myself and the audience with performances whose idiomatic command, technical mastery and unsullied integrity of vision made me think right back to the days of Schnabel and Fournier, Solomon and Piatigorsky.” Beyond the duo’s recital activities, David Finckel also serves as cellist of the Grammy Award-winning Emerson String Quartet.
In addition to their distinction as world-class performers, the duo has established a reputation for their dynamic and innovative approach to the recording studio. In 1997, David Finckel and Wu Han launched ArtistLed, classical music’s first musician-directed and Internet-based recording company, which has served as a model for numerous independent labels. All twelve ArtistLed recordings have met with critical acclaim and are available via the company’s website at www.artistled.com. This season, ArtistLed releases its thirteenth recording, an album of clarinet trios by Beethoven, Brahms, and Max Bruch, featuring clarinetist David Shifrin. The duo’s repertoire spans virtually the entire literature for cello and piano, with an equal emphasis on the classics and the contemporaries. Their commitment to new music has brought commissioned works by many of today’s leading composers to audiences around the world. In 2010, the duo released “For David and Wu Han” (ArtistLed), an album of four contemporary works for cello and piano expressly composed for them. David Finckel and Wu Han have also overseen the establishment and design of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s CMS Studio Recordings label, as well as the Society’s recording partnership with Deutsche Grammophon; and Music@Menlo LIVE, which has been praised as “the most ambitious recording project of any classical music festival in the world” (San Jose Mercury News).
David Finckel and Wu Han have served as Artistic Directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center since 2004. They are also the founders and Artistic Directors of Music@Menlo, a chamber music festival and institute in Silicon Valley that has garnered international acclaim since its inception in 2003. They have achieved universal renown for their passionate commitment to nurturing the careers of countless young artists through a wide array of education initiatives. For many years, the duo taught alongside the late Isaac Stern at Carnegie Hall and the Jerusalem Music Center. Under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, David Finckel and Wu Han have established chamber music training workshops for young artists in Korea and Taiwan, intensive residency programs designed to bring student musicians into contact with an elite artist-faculty. David Finckel and Wu Han reside in New York with their sixteen-year-old daughter, Lilian.
Music in the Park Series favorites David Finckel and Wu Han return after an absence of several years. As “America’s power couple of chamber music,” their exciting program offers classic works by Beethoven, Brahms, and Debussy, as well as the rarely performed Sonata for Cello by Benjamin Britten.
|Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Opus 5, No. 2||Ludwig van Beethoven
|Sonata No. 1 in E minor, Opus 38||Johannes Brahms
|Sonata for Cello and Piano||Claude Debussy
|Sonata in C, Opus 65||Benjamin Britten
Sonata No. 2 in G Minor, Opus 5, No. 2 Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
The two sonatas of Opus 5 are a by-product of the only real tour of Beethoven's performing career. After passing through Prague, Dresden and Leipzig, Beethoven landed, in May 1796, at the Berlin court of Frederick the Great's successor, Friedrich Wilhelm II. The Prussian monarch was an enthusiastic amateur cellist, and virtuoso players like Boccherini and the brothers Duport ﬂ ocked to him. The elder Jean-Pierre Duport had been the king's teacher. Younger but more talented, Jean-Louis joined his brother after the French Revolution. Beethoven seized the opportunity to write a new kind of cello work for Jean Louis and perform it with him for the King. For his efforts, Friedrich Wilhelm gave Beethoven a gold snuffbox stuffed with louis d'ors. "Not an ordinary snuffbox," boasted Beethoven, "but such a one as it might have been customary to give an ambassador!"
The G-minor sonata is a generous and uniﬁ ed work in a form Mozart had used: an extended slow introduction, followed by a movement in essay form and a rondo. That introduction, moving through many keys and moods, is nearly equivalent to a slow movement, while the Allegro molto is one of Beethoven's longest. Freed from its role as a bass or continuo instrument, the cello ranges freely over three octaves. Beethoven solves the problem of balance between cello and piano in two ways. He avoids scoring the instruments in the same register, reserving the middle of the piano for solo passages; when the cello is playing, the piano is either above it or below. He also contrasts the rhythmic nature of the partners. In the main Allegro, for instance, all the triplets are in the piano, while the cello plays more singing material.
The ﬁrst edition of Beethoven's Opus 5 is titled: "Two Grand Sonatas for Harpsichord or Piano-Forte with a Violoncello Obbligato." Note the order of the instruments: keyboard before cello. The mention of harpsichord as an alternative is laughable now, but it was a marketing must at the time. In 1796, the piano was still something of an innovation.
Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Opus 38 Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
It may seem strange to think of Brahms as a choral conductor rather than a symphonist, but for the 1863-64 season, that was his livelihood: conductor of the Vienna Singakademie. Brahms brought his love of ancient music to that still-extant chorus, programming Renaissance motets, a Bach cantata and parts of the Christmas Oratorio. The man who recommended Brahms for the job was Josef Gänsbacher, a lawyer and sometime cellist who later became a respected singing teacher at the Conservatory. It was to Gänsbacher, "in friendship," that Brahms dedicated the ﬁ rst cello sonata. Friendship, but also in appreciation for a much-needed job reference. Opus 38 is the ﬁ rst of two Brahms sonatas for cello, and it was his ﬁ rst solo sonata to appear in print. Drafted in June 1862—Brahms sketched ﬁ rst movement of the First Symphony at this time—the work wasn't completed until May 1865. The problem of balance, solved so neatly by Beethoven, is in this work more acute, for the low register of the cello is often favored. Brahms frequently uses the instrument like the pedals of an organ. Or was he evoking Gänsbacher's voice? The older man was no virtuoso. When he once complained that Brahms's loud playing was covering his cello, Brahms is said to have growled "You should be glad."
The Allegro non troppo begins at a measured walking pace. A second subject grows out of itself, adding notes impulsively. When the walking music returns, it is magniﬁ ed many times, to almost terrifying proportions. But the reharmonized main theme returns magically, sleep-walking in the major mode. Instead of a slow movement, Brahms gives us something like a minuet in A minor. A will-o'-the-wisp attends the trio in distant F-sharp minor. The ﬁ nale is a thrilling combination of three-voice fugue and sonata procedure. The subject here is similar to one from Bach's Art of Fugue, but Brahms's penchant for pitting two notes against three makes this fugue sound more hectic. And if you notice that the second theme is a playful blossoming of the second countersubject, it will only double your pleasure. To maximize the drive to the ﬁ nish, the themes come back in reverse order, and the coda is marked più presto.
Sonata for Cello and Piano Claude Debussy (1862-1918)
Depressed by The Great War, suffering from the cancer that would kill him three years later, Claude Debussy in 1915 worked on an operatic setting of Poe's Fall of the House of Usher, the Etudes for piano and the Six Sonates, of which only those for ﬂ ute, viola and harp, for violin, and for cello were ﬁ nished. In the Cello Sonata, Debussy initially recalls the world of Lully with majestic dotted rhythms. Cello and piano never duplicate each other, but often combine to create guitar-like textures. The central Sérénade is marked fantasque et léger (whimsical and light) and is as dry as an Alsatian white wine. The Finale glows with Latin ardor. What wouldn't one give to hear Debussy's other projected sonatas, like the one for oboe, horn and harpsichord!
Sonata in C, Opus 65 Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Like the sonatas by Beethoven and Brahms, Benjamin Britten's Sonata in C was conceived for a speciﬁ c performer. On September 21, 1960, Britten found himself seated next to Dmitri Shostakovich at the British premiere of that composer's Cello Concerto, played by the great Russian cellist (and teacher, conductor and pianist) Mstislav Rostropovich. Britten remembered it as "the most extraordinary cello playing I'd ever heard." After the concert, recounted the cellist: "I attacked Britten then and there and pleaded most sincerely and passionately with him to write something for the cello." The pair met at Rostropovich's Kensington hotel the next povich wired back: "ADMIRING AND IN LOVE WITH YOUR GREAT SONATA."
Soprano Galina Vishnevskaya, Rostropovich's wife of 52 years, described her husband as "a man with a kind of frantic motor inside him. Once [he] had made up his mind to do something and had decided he was right, no force on earth could stop him." And his moods would swing "now high and expressive, now low and grumbling, now gay and carefree." All this Britten captured in the Sonata, which some have called a portrait of Rostropovich. The friendship between the two men continued to ﬂ ourish in the Symphony for Cello and Orchestra and three unaccompanied Cello Suites. The Sonata's opening is unusual: a conversation, the subject of which only gradually reveals itself. Britten called it a "discussion of a tiny motive of a rising or falling second." One usually thinks of lyricism as connecting notes one to another, but isolated notes, like single words, can have meaning. As a second theme, steps are strung together. In a ﬁ nal gesture, cello ascends through the harmonic series, lingering on the naturally very ﬂ at seventh harmonic. For the Scherzo, which evokes not only Bartók but the Balinese gamelan, the bow is put aside. In the Elegia, the cello serves resolutely as a bass to the piano's keenings. Britten the paciﬁ st offers a bitingly satirical Marcia and concludes with a study in perpetual motion. The ﬁ nal extended mad dash conﬁ rms a remarkable meeting of minds—and nations. Remember, these events took place at the height of the Cold War.
Program notes © 2012 by David Evan Thomas