Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger:

Sonata for Piano and Cello in G minor, Op. 19
Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor, Op. 40
Sonata for Cello and Piano in C major, Op. 119

David Finckel (cello); Wu Han (piano)
ARTISTLED 19901-2 [79:36]

Available from

The rapid rise of 'own labels' over the last five years has been one of the more interesting and positive aspects of the otherwise turbulent recent history of the classical recording business. The decline of the major companies and the curtailment of their recording programmes (notably by BMG Classics/RCA and the Warner Music labels Erato and Teldec) has increasingly forced orchestras, opera houses, chamber groups and soloists alike to seek other avenues to feed their need to be heard by a world-wide audience. In the orchestral world, ensembles as diverse as The Salzburg Mozarteum Orchestra, the London Symphony Orchestra, The Japan Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, The Philadelphia Orchestra and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra have all launched their own labels. Soloists such as Matt Haimovitz and Hansjörg Schellenberger have also found the 'own label' route to be both necessary and rewarding. The internet aids the growth of such enterprises.

One of the first such labels was ArtistLed, founded by David Finckel and Wu Han. Their cover-mount CD on the January 1997 issue of the BBC Music Magazine was extremely well received and went on to become one of the first ArtistLed releases. It is no longer possible or fair to describe enterprises such as theirs as 'vanity labels', as the passion and care that clearly goes into the productions often creates results superior to those from the 'traditional' labels. By controlling every aspect of the production of the master tape, especially the choice of takes, 'own label' artists can, at the very least, ensure that the finished CD represents them as they would wish to be heard and at their very best.

David Finckel (cellist of the Emerson String Quartet) and his wife, pianist Wu Han enjoy the great advantage of being able to plan their recordings to suit themselves and integrate each part of the process into their busy performing schedules. How much time is taken over the vitally important aspect of getting the recorded sound 'just right' before recording in earnest remains entirely up to them. I understand that Finckel and Wu Han, abetted by their inspired sound engineer Da-Hong Seetoo, will not commence recording until entirely satisfied, however long that takes. Similarly, as they control the label's release schedule, they can take their time over the editing process, listening and re-listening to the takes.

The results - certainly as far as this CD is concerned - are absolutely stunning. Finckel studied with Rostropovich (to whom the disc is dedicated) and it shows. His grasp of each of the sonatas is masterly and his use of a tonal palette of extraordinary richness helps create a new standard of performance in each work. Wu Han studied with Rudolf Serkin and Menahem Pressler and she could certainly not be described as a mere accompanist. This is a true partnership of equals and much of the piano playing can only be described as breathtaking. In the Rachmaninov the singing legato from the cello is more than matched by the most expressive rubato from the piano. The climax (at 8:50) in the Allegro Mosso finale finds both players providing a level of passion which had me on the edge of my seat. The second movement Allegro of the Shostakovich Sonata contains some extremely tricky harmonics which under Finckel's fingers sound completely under control. Technique truly at the service of art. The end of the Largo has never sounded more desolate; nor has the demanding writing for both instruments in the Allegro finale sounded more virtuosic. In this performance, the Prokofiev Sonata's claim to the status of masterpiece is firmly established, with the great first movement melody given a very special kind of dignity.

Competing versions include a rather self-conscious Yo-Yo Ma in the Shostakovich. Also coupling the Shostakovich and Prokofiev sonatas are Mork/Vogt (Virgin) and Turovsky/Edlina (Chandos). Mork, again, has recorded the Rachmaninov for Virgin and there is an interesting all-Rachmaninov disc from Michael Grebanier on Naxos - let down somewhat by his pianist.

But none of these can compare with David Finckel and Wu Han who have set new standards in this repertoire. This ideal coupling would appear to be unique (at over 79 minutes other companies may not have been prepared to risk it) and the recording is superlative. Indeed, this is the finest sounding cello/piano CD I have yet heard; the timbre of the perfectly tuned piano is entirely natural throughout all of its octaves and the cello, very well balanced with the piano, sounds utterly real.

Highly recommended.

Simon Foster

Return to Index

Reviews from previous months
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board.  Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.This is the only part of MusicWeb for which you will have to register.

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers: