By Lawrence Budmen

Once in a while a concert comes along that offers music making of the most elevated variety. On April 22 Sunday Afternoons of Music brought the husband and wife duo of cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han to the UM Frost School of Music Gusman Concert Hall stage. Theirs is a musical partnership of surpassing excellence. When these two artists play chamber music, one hears two musical hearts beating together intuitively in harmonic euphoria. 

Finckel, the long time cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, is an aristocratic master of his dark toned instrument. His splendid playing combines superb technical command with a natural ease and fluidity of execution. Wu Hanís pianism is imaginative and musically sensitive. Playing a superb Hamburg Steinway, she drew striking tonal hues and marvelous coloration from the keyboard, always idiomatically attuned to the music at hand.

In Beethovenís Sonata No.1 in F Major, the golden duo brought a sense of the excitement beneath the notes of this first major cello score by the master from Bonn. The Rondo finale literally fizzed with sparkling vivacity. This music was meant to be entertaining and this performance fulfilled that and more. 

Brahmsís Sonata No.1 in E minor is one of the great cello works in the repertoire. The duoís performance was as close to that illusive ideal of perfection as artists find possible. Finckel brought richly passionate playing and gorgeously burnished tone to the romantic thematic interplay of the opening Allegro non troppo. Wu Hanís expressive musicality and sensitive touch made the keyboard part glow with noble finesse. The playersí ruminative approach to the second movement appropriately highlighted the darkness and shadow of this moody waltz. In the fugal writing of the finale, the artistsí superb coordination, clarity of instrumental textures, and incendiary musicianship offered thrilling music making. Here was great Brahms playing of the kind all too rarely encountered. 

The programís second part opened with a brief survey of works by that enigmatic genius Anton Webern (1883-1945). Two Pieces from 1899 Ė both marked Langsam Ė could well have been written by Richard Strauss, so rich was the musicís chromaticism and romantic ardor. Three Little Pieces from 1914 were more experimental, astringent but with a witty airiness. These technically demanding vignettes were dispatched with disarming ease by the duo.

Prokofievís Sonata in C Major was composed in 1949 for the formidable team of Mstislav Rostropovich and Sviatoslav Richter. By turns balletic, impassioned, and emotionally agitated, the score is prime Prokofiev. The eloquence and beautiful line of Finckelís playing in the initial Andante grave seemed borne from some other sphere. (David Finckel studied with Rostropovich. He clearly shares his masterís depth of feeling for this music.) An incisive version of the childrenís dance of the Moderato triggered a dynamic, emotionally compelling reading of the finale. 

A cheering ovation and repeated curtain calls brought forth an encore. The passionately brooding Adagio from Rachmaninoffís Cello Sonata was rendered with lyrically intense, deeply felt emotion by David Finckel and Wu Han, two extraordinary musicians.

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