Review: Ensemble Music's Schubert Trios

David Finckel, Wu Han and Philip Setzer.

3.5 stars

Ensemble Music Series; Indiana History Center; Feb. 24.

"Heavenly length" is what is usually reserved to describe

Franz Schubert's "Great" C-Major Symphony, D. 944. But that term can readily be

applied to a large number of the Austrian Classical/Romantic composer's

prodigious instrumental output from the 1820s (he died in 1828 at age 31): each

of his final three "Posthumous" piano sonatas, his final String Quartet in G

(which, to my recollection, has never been played locally but should be), his

Cello Quintet in C, his F Major Octet for strings and winds, his Grand Duo in C

for piano/four hands (orchestrated by our own Raymond Leppard) — and

finally his two piano trios.

Each of these works lasts on either side of 45 minutes (and,

except for the Octet, have four movements); they are all properly considered

masterpieces in the mature Schubert's unique idiom.

Duo performers David Finckel, cellist, and Wu Han, pianist,

joined with violinist Philip Setzer (the latter from the Emerson String

Quartet) in offering Schubert's two piano trios this Wednesday. The first, Trio

in B-flat, D. 898 (1827), is the most immediately accessible of the two, filled

with tunes, jaunty and utterly lovely — overlaying a complex structure

filled with abrupt key shifts and repetitively rhythmic, left-hand piano


The succeeding Trio in E-flat, D. 929 (1827) brings its

complex structure more to the forefront while somewhat submerging its melodies,

of which, still, there are plenty. Most ear-catching is the march tune from the

second movement, shared throughout among the three instruments. It's then

reprised twice in the Finale, supported with bewitching piano chords skipping

down the keyboard. This movement, especially of "heavenly length," remains

fascinating throughout.

That both trios fully engaged the large IHC Basile Theater

audience was quite evident. Our performers got standing ovations, at both the

break and the end. The Finckel – Han duo team are without question a

top-tiered twosome. Han's keyboard work — her phrasing, articulation and

dynamic control — were second to none in both these works. Finckel made

his cello a living, breathing instrument, with breathtaking tonal control and

an instinctive ensemble sense.

In fact, all three players conveyed a consummate knowledge

of these long, challengingly difficult works as they blended their parts

together—and made them "sing."


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