iolinist Philip Setzer is a founding member of the Emerson String Quartet, and cellist David Finckel joined the group in 1979. Along the way Finckel met pianist Wu Han, and their artistic union soon became one of marriage. Perhaps as a way of performing more often with Han, Finckel recruited Setzer to join them in a piano trio.
Which means that the at least half the Emerson String Quartet will remain intact for awhile, as Finckel just announced two weeks ago his retirement from the Emerson in the summer of 2013.
The "trio without a name" already has released the two Schubert piano trios on Finckel and Han's label, ArtistLed, and the two Mendelssohn trios come out this week. Last Friday night, an enthusiastic, but far under capacity, Union Theater audience experienced their snap-crackle-pop face to face.
The concert opened with the added bonus of Finckel and Han in the Cello Sonata No. 2 of Mendelssohn. As the work unfolded, one had to smile at the quote in the program bio from a German critic who hailed Finckel as "one of the top ten, if not top five, cellists in the world today." To experience the richness of Finckel's tone and the breadth of his musicality inevitably places the quote in the category of damning with faint praise. Until, perhaps, one realizes that cellists who spend their lives in an ensemble — even one so renowned as the Emerson — tend to be more anonymous than, say, the Yo-Yo Mas of the world.
Han is Finckel's match, of course, but really had her mettle tested in the piano trios. Setzer's violin was all sweetness in the high range and warmth below, a perfect complement to Finckel's timbral variety. But what stands out is the collective unanimity of phrasing and dynamics, and an interpretive sweep that finds the understated but still potent ardor in outer movements of the Op. 49 and Op. 66 Trios, the graceful lullaby and "songs without words" quality of the slow movements, and the always astonishing execution of Mendelssohn's laser-focused, lightning-laced scherzos.
After the genuinely earned pop-out-of-your-seat ovations following the finale of the Op. 66, Han got a big laugh by asking if we agreed that she should get paid by the note. But then we got what we hoped for: A dollop more of this luscious artistry, via, as Han said "after the meal of Mendelssohn, we can only offer a dessert of Haydn," which was a light and airy movement from his A Major Trio.
There's only one thing these three need — a name. Then again, maybe not. The musical world is already buzzing about Finckel/Han/Setzer.
Photo: Philip Setzer, Wu Han, David Finckel