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Wu Han, piano, & David Finckel, cello. ArtistLed 10401-2 (66:46). $15, available from http://www.artistled.com/.
One of the great benefits of Internet commerce is that one can be exposed to millions of people without having to become part of mammoth corporate entities. This is especially true in music sales and especially for classical recordings that don't involve the handful of artists who transcend this relatively small niche. ArtistLed, founded and run by the two artists in this recording, advertises itself as "classical music's first Internet recording company." In fact, their catalog, so far, consists entirely of recordings of only these artists.
This new recording treads on very traditional ground, as do most of their others. We can get into a tired old debate about why another recording of such a standard is necessary, but that comes with the privilege of controlling your own recording company.
Having recently experienced a phenomenal concert by Finckel and Han at Duke University (basically a complete performance of their "Russian Classics" CD), I must reaffirm that recordings pale in comparison to live, up-close experiences, but this is as good a substitute as you can get. Schubert's A Major Piano Sonata is one of a set of three he worked on in the last summer of his short life. It is an overwhelming work that Han executes with grace, intelligence, and brilliant technique. The recording quality is natural and resonant without the feeling of any forced acoustic trickery.
There have been a number of unusual instruments that have come and gone throughout the centuries, and undoubtedly the greatest composition written for a defunct instrument is by Schubert, for the arpeggione, a sort of bowed guitar. Actually, the "Arpeggione" Sonata has become one of the most well-known compositions, usually played on the cello. As mentioned before, there are dozens of recordings of this work, and my favorite of all time is a transcendent recording by Rostropovich with Benjamin Britten, piano, from the early 1960s. David Finckel, who is also the cellist of the Emerson String Quartet, gives a well-balanced and sensitive reading of this deceptively difficult sonata. A great deal of the music is in the upper register of the cello, but Finckel's tone and execution sparkles despite the difficulties. The adagio movement is filled with a beautiful warm sound and graceful phrasing.
The accompanying booklet contains an informative essay on Schubert and melody, and there is a very complete listening guide to the two works.
This and all ArtistLed CDs are available only at their website.