By Melinda Bargreen
An appreciative audience gathered in Meany Theater to hear a chamber-music program featuring cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han … wait, wasn’t there also a violinist? Yes, there was Phil Setzer, Finckel’s former Emerson String Quartet colleague, playing what seemed like an occasional obbligato violin line to the more forceful duo of Finckel and Han. At least, that’s what it sounded like in the first half of that chamber concert, where Beethoven’s early Piano Trio No. 2 and the popular “Dumky” Trio of Dvorak emerged in artful but rather lopsided fashion.
You could say there may have been some role reversal: Setzer, who alternates with Eugene Drucker as first violinist of the long-running quartet which Finckel left last year, has called a lot of shots from that first violin position over the years.
In Meany Theater, though, the tone this time was definitely set by Finckel, who poured out the big, rough, occasionally forced-sounding cello lines in the mild-mannered Beethoven score while Setzer almost disappeared into the background.
Finckel and Han (the two are a married couple) are now the award-winning directors of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, as well as artistic directors of Korea’s Chamber Music Today Festival and the San Francisco Bay Area’s Music@Menlo chamber festival. At Lincoln Center, their tenure as directors was recently extended through the 2018-19 season; in 2012, they were jointly named Musical America’s Musician(s) of the Year. They’re definitely one of the “power couples” of classical music, and that power appears to inform their playing.
The second piece on the Meany program, the Dvorak, found the ensemble level slightly better, but still occasionally unbalanced, with some heavy-handed and over-pedaled playing by Han as well as the aggressive approach from Finckel.
Matters improved considerably in the final work on the program, Schubert’s mighty Trio in E-Flat Major. Here there was more balance, more interplay, among three players who handed off themes, took their moments in the spotlight and then stepped back, and listened to each other.
In the Schubert, the trio members really seemed to be working together, and that was great to hear. Finally.