Wu Han Live: from Music@Menlo

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COMPOSERS: Haydn and Mendelssohn,JS Bach
LABELS: ArtistLed
ALBUM TITLE: Wu Han Live: from Music@Menlo
WORKS: Works by JS Bach, Haydn and Mendelssohn
PERFORMER: Wu Han (piano); Benjamin Beilman, Jorja Fleezanis, Erin Keefe, Sunmi Chang and Kristin Lee (violin), Richard O’Neill (viola), David Finckel, Dmitri Atapine (cellos), Scott Pingel (bass)

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Silicon Valley’s Music@Menlo likes to leave a CD trail of each year’s activities, but this release differs in being a portrait of one of the Festival’s co-founders in performances spanning a decade. It spotlights her in solo and concerto roles; and with Haydn’s Concertino effectively a piano quartet, as a chamber musician too. Composed before Haydn accepted the Esterházy shilling in 1761, it’s an elegant if uneventful work in which Wu Han’s shapely advocacy is a little compromised by the resonant recording. Her Bach French Suite No. 5, on the other hand, tends to be forthright and a little under-characterised – the ‘Loure’ with its languid sighs emerges a little stiffly as does the opening ‘Allemande’. And if the ‘Gigue’ has more sparkle, it’s a tough call as to whether it’s because of, or in spite of, the tight rein that keeps it on its toes.

Wu Han is much happier in a clutch of Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. But some of the most compelling playing of all is reserved for the 14-year-old Mendelssohn’s Double Concerto in the same key of D minor as his smoulderingly volcanic Piano Trio Op. 49. Joined by violinist Benjamin Beilman, the passagework fizzes, and the ensemble in the exhilarating Finale is tight as a drum even under pressure.

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Paul Riley