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Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Frankly Music’s Chamber Pyrotechnics

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“I’m very excited about the program we’ve put together for our first concert at the Wilson Center,” says Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster and violinist Frank Almond of his next performing event. It’s easy to see why.

Frankly Music (violinist Frank Almond, cellist Joseph Johnson and pianist Michael Mizrahi) performs the single work by which Giuseppe Tartini (1692-1770) is known to us today: the Violin Sonata in G Minor, better known as the Devil’s Trill sonata. Though Tartini wrote copiously, he never sought fame as a composer, but rather maintained a widespread reputation as the greatest violinist of his day and founder of an important school of violin playing. The Devil’s Trill sonata gets its name from the difficult violin cadenza that appears near the end of the last movement (legend has it that the theme for this trille du diable came to Tartini in a dream).

The Piano Trio No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 49 of Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) is recognized as one of his most popular and best chamber works. A lively and melodic piece, it was the D Minor Trio that prompted fellow composer Robert Schumann, in a review, to assert that “Mendelssohn is the Mozart of the 19th century, the most illuminating of musicians.”

Equally famous among chamber works is the Piano Trio No. 4 in E Minor, Op. 90 by Antonín Dvorák (1841-1904). The entire work is based upon Ukrainian folk music, from which it gets its name, Dumky (a word that derives from Ukrainian for a ballad or lament). The E Minor Trio’s six movements alternate slow, melancholy sections with up-tempo Slavic dances, giving it more the feeling of a song cycle than that of a formal piano trio.

It is song, indeed, that flavors nearly every work of composer Ned Rorem (b. 1923). America’s foremost proponent of art song, Rorem’s works are lyrical, clear and largely tonal. Even the movements of works such as his Day Music and Night Music for violin and piano have titles that are songlike (Pearls, Extreme Leisure, Saying Goodbye, Driving Off). “I conceive all music vocally,” Rorem explains. “Whatever my music is written for…it is always the singer within me crying to get out.”

“The Mendelssohn and Dvorák trios are really staples of the repertory that everyone will enjoy,” Almond predicts, “and the Rorem pieces are beautiful… The Tartini is also interesting to hear live, considering its intimate connection with the violin I’m playing.” The instrument Almond mentions is his Stradivarius violin from 1715, thus making it contemporaneous with Giuseppe Tartini.

Frankly Music performs all four of the above-mentioned works on May 10 in the Dawes Studio Theater of the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts in Brookfield.

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