Ensemble unearths rare gems for concert

Chamber music: David Shifrin, David Finckel and Wu Han bring the clarinet and piano into what is often a strings-only performance.

April 01, 2000|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

Chamber music exists in all shapes and forms. There are string quartets and piano trios, woodwind quintets and piano duos. Rummage through the repertoire long enough, and odds are you could find a piece or two for almost any imaginable combination of instruments.

Professional chamber music ensembles, on the other hand, tend to exist in only one form: the string quartet. It's not hard to understand why, of course, as there's more great music written for this grouping than for any other chamber ensemble. Even so, there are many wonderful works for other ensembles that rarely get played in concert, simply because there are no touring ensembles taking them from town to town.

That's why we should be glad David Shifrin, David Finckel and Wu Han are friends.

Shifrin is a gifted clarinetist and the artistic director of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center. Cellist Finckel is a member of the Emerson String Quartet. He also performs frequently as a solo artist and with his wife, pianist Wu Han. Han, likewise, has a busy solo schedule in addition to her duo work. All three will be at Shriver Hall tomorrow performing the clarinet trios of Beethoven and Brahms, as well as a pair of duo works -- the Poulenc sonata for clarinet and piano, and the Schumann "Adagio and Allegro" for cello and piano.

"I can't recall the first time we all played together," Shifrin says in a telephone interview from his home in Norwalk, Conn.

"We played some concerts together where we may not have all played in the same piece but where the common denominator was the Emerson Quartet. And that is definitely the link -- with David and the Quartet -- because I've known the guys in the Emerson since they first started out, when they were students at Juilliard. And David brought Wu Han and me together as a trio."

Finckel, for his part, relishes the opportunity to play with Shifrin. "He's such an incredibly great artist that I would go anywhere, basically, to play this program," he says over the phone from Hamburg, Germany.

"I love playing the two great trios of Beethoven and Brahms so much. There's this collection of jewels in the repertoire for cello and clarinet and piano, so it was a natural, fun thing to do. The Beethoven trio and the Brahms trio make the cornerstones for a program which can then include some duo work, which is a kind of format for a recital/chamber music concert that I find very attractive."

Part of the attraction for musicians like Shifrin is that chamber music, unlike orchestral playing, is inherently collaborative.

"All the details that go into making a consensus of an interpretation are the collective responsibility of the members of the chamber ensemble," he says, "as opposed to members of the orchestra, who take their direction from a conductor.

"It's tremendously interesting for me as a wind player to work with string players, because you're looking for the same kinds of results, but you're producing them in different ways: the piano hammers that are striking the string; the bow on the cello that's drawing it out; and the wind that's making a reed vibrate to make my sound."

Finckel, likewise, enjoys the change of pace that comes with working with a woodwind player instead of his string-playing colleagues in the Emerson.

"I enjoy working with the sound of the cello to match the clarinet," he says. "Sometimes I can imitate the clarinet, and sometimes I can be my own voice. Texturally, it's incredibly exciting and interesting to play with the clarinet.

"It's a very powerful instrument. Even the softest notes can be heard everywhere in the hall. It's a great acoustical challenge, to play with it and balance and blend. But David is such an incredible artist, there's no issue there."

Indeed, the only real "issue" these three run up against in playing together is figuring out where and when, something that -- thanks to their mutually complicated schedules -- can take literally years of planning.

"I remember a few years ago, we tried to do it with one year's notice, and we couldn't find times to play concerts together," Shifrin says. "Between Wu Han's solo schedule, and David's quartet schedule, and their schedule as a duo, and my solo schedule, and my schedule at the Chamber Music Society at Lincoln Center, there weren't any times."

Adding to Finckel and Han's concert obligations is ArtistLed, the recording company they own and operate. ArtistLed exists specifically to allow the duo to record the pieces they want in the manner they want, and -- most important -- to allow them to own the recordings once they're finished.

"Not many people realize that when you make a record for a big, traditional record company, they actually hire you to make the record," says Finckel. "They buy it from you, and then they own it. They can do anything they want with it."

ArtistLed has released five CDs, which they sell at concerts and over the Internet (www .artistled.com). So far, the recordings have focused solely on Finckel and Han.

"We've done very little with outside artists; we have so much of our own cello/piano repertoire to record," Finckel says. "But I think if we did start to expand and include other artists, I think these clarinet trios would be one of the first places we'd go."

Chamber music

When: 7: 30 p.m. tomorrow

Where: Shriver Hall, Johns Hopkins University, 3400 N. Charles St.

Tickets: $23 ($12 students)

Talk: Dr. Eileen Soskin of the Peabody Institute will give a free lecture at 6: 30 p.m. in the Clipper Room above Shriver Hall

Call: 410-516-7164

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