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Cellist's face, intensity win crowd

David Finckel and his wife, Wu Han, are quite the pair. They presented an outstanding concert Monday night on the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series.

Finckel is famous as the cellist with the renowned Emerson String Quartet, but until you have heard him on his own, I would say you have not really heard him. He is intense and expressive. Playing from memory and facing the audience, he owns the room.

Wu Han, on piano, is happy to let him shine. She is an assertive player, but she plays him up. I would imagine she gets a kick out of him, too.

You could not help but get a kick out of Finckel. As the crowd exited, you could hear a repeated refrain: "I couldn't believe his face!"

Every emotion Finckel felt, it showed in his face. He would make a terrible poker player. He arches his eyebrows. He is free with body language, letting his arm drop to his side, rolling his eyes, bracing his hand on his knee. Once, when Han started a stormy passage, he mugged outright. It made me think of watching a strange comic genius like, say, Chico Marx.

If you closed your eyes you would get a different impression of the music. But you would be missing something.

His behavior, after all, was genuine. And it was all part of the concert, which was beautiful. The couple began -- immediately, suddenly, the second they sat down on stage at the Flickinger Performing Arts Center -- with an Adagio drawn from Bach's Toccata in C for Organ. The lines sailed from Finckel's cello. He plays like a singer who sings long lines all in one breath and with natural shape. He gave the Bach a romantic tone.

His and Wu Han's take on the Beethoven Sonata in C, Op. 102, No. 1, was gentler from the word go than other performances I have heard. Experience with the Emerson Quartet must help Finckel's approach to this music. He noticed not only its poetry and courage, but also its wit. His clear, resonant lines, pouring into the small hall, were a delight.

Han, too, had fun with the piece. Relaxed and lyrical, she kept smiling over her shoulder at Finckel, who smiled back. There was a lot of twisting and turning going on, but what the heck, it worked. It cannot be easy to keep music like this in such synch.

An Adagio and Allegro by Schumann followed. It made me think of a song by Schumann that I particularly love, a rapturous duet. The interplay between the instruments was like the interplay of the voices in a duet. The music soared. Here is where I think Finckel particularly benefited from playing from memory. He could just let loose.

After that came the evening's clunker, a 2007 sonata by Pierre Jaubert. New music usually requires a speech, and Wu Han did the honors. She was charming in an "I Love Lucy" kind of way as she explained the piece, which she said had been commissioned by Lincoln Center for $25,000. As she spoke, Finckel made faces, his fingers pacing restlessly over his cello strings.

If anyone could sell a piece, these two could. And God love them, because I do not think anyone wanted to hear this thing. It was clever -- the best part had Wu Han plucking the strings inside the piano while Finckel, using a score this time, played pizzicato on his cello. But mere cleverness does not touch the heart.

Oh well. It was worth it for the concluding Cesar Franck, the deservedly popular Sonata in A for violin and piano, transcribed by Finckel for cello and piano. This piece works beautifully as a cello sonata. It is deep and noble, and the tones of the cello bring that out.

The music also brought out the musicians' impetuousness, a shared trait. Both of them like to take chances, to throw themselves into things. Cello and piano both had a ringing intensity. It was tumultuous, passionate playing.

Passionate applause won an irresistible encore, the slow movement from Rachmaninoff's Cello Sonata. Perfect.

This concert concluded this season's Tick series. Subscriptions are currently available for a reduced rate for next season, which includes pianist Joyce Yang, pianist Richard Goode, the chamber orchestra Les Violons du Roy and the violinist winner of the next Tchaikovsky Competition, whoever he or she may be. For information, call 759-4778.

e-mail: mkunz@buffnews.com

> Concert Review

David Finckel and Wu Han

Part of the Ramsi P. Tick Memorial Concert Series. Monday evening in the Flickinger Performing Arts Center, Nichols School.

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