Imagination and boldness, energy and innovation separate the great recitalists from the ordinary. David Finckel and Wu Han, the exceptional cello and piano duo (and husband and wife), demonstrated these qualities again, in a Rosalinde Gilbert concert in Bing Theater at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art on Wednesday night.
On paper, the 20th century Russian program looked a little gloomy, and it was all unfamiliar. But the players' virtuosic musicianship and their complete immersion in the works made it exhilarating and ear-opening.
The best came last, with Alfred Schnittke's explosive and ghostly Sonata (1978), a series of mechanical hurdles for the performers and a work of abrasive and haunting beauty for the listener. Finckel-Han, an ensemble that probes musical sensibility as deeply as it delineates musical form, played it with authority and spontaneous heat.
They also gave full value to the dramatic and technical challenges in two other sonatas from the 20th century, Prokofiev's late Opus 119 (1949) and Shostakovich's early--near the time of "Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk"--Sonata of 1934.
These works are not dissimilar, although each shows the composer's special characteristics in a specific period. Each should be heard more often than it is.
Immediately after intermission and at the end of the recital, the duo handsomely performed transcriptions from Rachmaninoff piano pieces.