Music Mountain: Mendelssohn turns happy face in music

Wednesday September 28, 2011

PITTSFIELD -- As cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han tore into Mendelssohn's Cello Sonata No. 2 to open the South Mountain concert Sunday, two questions arose: Could the players sustain this intensity all through the concert?

And would Finckel doff his suit jacket as a concession to the afternoon's heat?

The answers were: yes to the first question, no to the second.

When violinist Philip Setzer (also jacketed) joined the duo for the program's principal business, Mendelssohn's two piano trios, the soaring lyricism and rhythmic vitality only intensified.

How, you had to wonder, can three instruments produce so much music -- not in volume, but in range of effects within music whose spectrum of effects doesn't extend to the darker side of life?

Setzer and Finckel are half of the Emerson String Quartet, and Wu Han is Finckel's wife and recital partner. The program, a sequel to the group's performance of the two Schubert trios at South Mountain two years ago, marked the forthcoming release of the group's recording of the Mendelssohn pair. Like the already released Schubert pair, they're on the Finckel-Wu Han label ArtistLed.


Mendelssohn certainly suffered disappointments in his life, and apparently had a depressive streak. You wouldn't have known it in Sunday's three pieces. Here as elsewhere in his music, Mendelssohn turns a happy face to the world. The first name Felix fits.

If any one movement summed up the afternoon's pleasures, it was the "energetic and with fire" opening allegro of the second trio. In its alternating passions and drive, its yearnings and tempests, it seemed a distillation of romantic moods.


So, too, with the heartfelt andante, the sparkling scherzo (reminiscent of the composer's "Midsummer Night's Dream" and Octet scherzos) and the finale's dip into contemplation. The piece ended in such a breathless rush that it seemed to keep going even when it stopped.

It's all the odder, then, that these paragon players make up an occasional trio that doesn't even have a name. In existence less than three years, it gets together between Emerson quartet concerts to perform a different repertoire, consisting so far of only the Schubert and Mendelssohn trios. Dvorak, Finckel has suggested, may be next.

Wu Han is such a dynamic pianist that her playing at times threatened to overwhelm the strings.

The imbalance never really happened. The worst that befell -- and it hardly mattered -- was some out-of-tune string playing because of the humidity.

Rightly, there were no encores. The encore will come this Sunday, when the full Emerson closes the South Mountain season.


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