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New Music, Old Values

For David and Wu Han

March 2, 2010

I’ve covered so many scrape-a-thon concerts of new music featuring the cello that I’ve almost forgotten what a gorgeous, melodious instrument it is. With cellist David Finckel and pianist Wu Han’s release (on the ArtistLed label) of four duos they commissioned, the lyrical cello returns with welcome suffusion. Every piece is a winner for those who like to silently sing along with the music they’re hearing, from the high drama of Pierre Jalbert’s 2007 Sonata to the elusive unsettledness of George Tsontakis’ 2008 Mirror Image. Along the way are Lera Auerbach’s impressive 2002 Sonata — which should have been subtitled Rivers of Tears — and Bruce Adolphe’s warm, optimistic 1998 Couple. These four pieces restore the sorely neglected attributes of melody, harmony, and soulfulness in music with plenty of variety and without pre-20th-century re-creations or insults to the intelligence.

Listen to the Music

Auerbach: Sonata Op. 69 2nd mvt.

Adolphe: Couple 4th mvt.

This is a first-class production in every respect, not merely in the quality of the repertoire. The performances shimmer with authenticity and flawless musicianship. After all, the music was written in close collaboration, with the composers being fully knowledgeable of the personalities of the artists for whom they were writing. The booklet contains detailed but unoppressive notes on the compositions, and you can go online for video interviews with the composers, if you’d like more. The sonics are exceptional, with appropriate resonance for the character of the music.

To tick off a few minor complaints: The track listing should occur on the back of the jewel case, not just on the back of the booklet; the track numbers should be readable, not in minuscule fonts in black squares; and a better program sequence might have been Jalbert–Tsontakis–Auerbach–Adolphe, as the Jalbert and Auerbach numbers are too alike in leaving the listener limp (a break in mood would have been welcome). Otherwise, hats off!

Jeff Dunn is a freelance critic with a B.A. in music and a Ph.D. in geologic education. A composer of piano and vocal music, he is a member of the National Association of Composers, USA, a former president of Composers, Inc., and has served on the Board of New Music Bay Area.