We rarely give a thought to acoustics unless they’re bad, but the acoustics at the Barns at Wolf Trap were such a supportive partner to Friday evening’s music-making there that they seemed part of the ensemble.
It was an evening of Beethoven trios, a musical tour through the composer’s sunny youth, turbulent midlife and more philosophical maturity played by three of the artists who know these best: pianist Wu Han; her husband, cellist David Finckel, late of the Emerson String Quartet; and violinist Philip Setzer, still with the quartet and one of its founders. Together their playing was almost startlingly intimate. Imitative lines whispered to each other, inner voices spoke out quietly, and everything proceeded with the lightest of touch and with amazing transparency. The acoustics made all of this easily heard, projecting warmth without muddiness and clarity without an edge.
The E Flat Minor Op. 1, No. 1 Trio, Mozartian in its idiom but surprising in its harmonic quirks and architecturally expansive codas, opened almost sotto voce, sparkling with quiet energy and moving weightlessly. Wu, Finckel and Setzer have played together for so long (Finckel and Setzer since they were teenagers) that their ensemble is seamless, made easier here by not having to push to project.
The three moved with almost sensual rhythmic subtlety from moments of high energy to supreme calm and back again in the D Major Trio Op. 70, No. 1 (“Ghost”), and polished the serene lyricism and sense of confidence that shines from the Op. 97 “Archduke” to a high luster. Wu Han’s almost magically crisp touch and broad palette of tone colors gave the whole ensemble clean outlines.
This concert kicked off the 20th anniversary of the “Chamber Music at the Barns” series, curated this year by the Emerson Quartet as artistic advisers.