Annual collaboration between EMS and IVCI bears fruit again

The annual collaboration between two well-run musical organizations that focus on individuality came off splendidly again Wednesday night at Indiana Landmarks Center.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, with two previous local engagements, both in 2016, was the marquee attraction as Ensemble Music Society and the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis continued their partnership and combined their large loyal audiences for a program of Beethoven, Shostakovich, and Dvorak.

Pianist Wu Han and cellist David Finckel were at the center of the concert. A married couple who also
direct CMS and often perform together, they were in the spotlight for Dmitri Shostakovich's Cello Sonata in D minor. Their vivid performance of a composition from the Russian composer's middle period, during which the difficulty of creative freedom in the Soviet Union became severe, had the requisite sparkle and flashes of intensity.

Wu Han and David Finckel: classical music's power couple 

There were times in the most intense passages of the first movement when the piano buried the cello line somewhat, and I wondered if adjusting the lid to the short stick would have been advisable. But the balance was better in the third movement, and any short-stick adjustment might have seemed unduly fussy for just one piece. Both musicians tend to display the kind of interpretive freedom and power-releasing capability that always works toward a common cause  — and that was quite evident. 

Those qualities were brought out to brilliant effect in the rousing waltz fantasy of the second movement. As for the finale, a typically Russian ebullience in fast music was never in danger of restraint or compromise. Wu and Finckel gave a memorable performance that lived up to the peerless stature they enjoy as a personal and professional duo.

The concert opened with that duo filled out by Richard Lin's return to the city. Lin won the gold medal in the 2018 IVCI. There's a good history involving Wu and Finckel and IVCI laureates. The couple were joined by 2010 bronze medalist Benjamin Beilman for the two Schubert piano trios in November 2022 at the Palladium. That was an astonishing concert, representing these two masterpieces at the highest level. 

Richard Lin was participated in two of the works played.

The collegial feeling extended to Lin's participation in Beethoven's Piano Trio in E-flat, op. 1, no. 1.  Early Beethoven tends to sound firmly within the classical tradition the young transplant to Vienna gradually grew out of. There is plenty of wit in a manner evocative of Joseph Haydn, the teacher he had briefly after settling in Vienna.

In the development of the first movement, Wednesday's trio reveled in the pixieish exchanges of the string instruments with piano support. Some full-blown lyricism was passed around between violin and cello, with due support from the piano. A tendency to subito shifts in dynamics, soon to become characteristic of Beethoven, inflected further indulgence in genial Haydnesque wit in the Presto finale. The three players sounded as if they regularly worked together, which always tends to happen when this pianist and cellist collaborate with others.

After intermission, another colleague was taken on: British violist Timothy Ridout.  The vehicle was one of the most popular for the combination of piano, violin, viola, and cello: Dvorak's Piano Quartet in E-flat, op. 87.  Melodic and rhythmic variety run riot in the first movement, and these four players gave it a full measure of enthusiasm. Coordination was pinpoint here and in the folk-music-influenced third movement.

Worth bringing special attention to was the prominence of Ridout's viola in the finale. According to the program booklet, he plays an Italian instrument from the 16th century. That's quite an early origin for the most treasured string instruments still in use today. Ridout's tone was rich,  and the melody he introduced and re-introduced set the tone in warmth and energy for what the whole ensemble lent to the music. The rapturous ovation that greeted its conclusion was fully merited — a vote of confidence for the continued mutual support of the IVCI and Ensemble Music.


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