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Monday, June 14, 2010

Sophisticated New Music on ‘Portraits & Elegies’

Milwaukee’s Frank Almond on CD

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The fantastic new CD Portraits & Elegies (Innova), recorded by violinist Frank Almond and pianist Brian Zeger, explores the lyrical side of contemporary American music. Philip Lasser’s unashamed love of French music is apparent in the lovely Vocalise (1999) and Berceuse Fantasque (1996). Ten miniature character pieces from Ned Rorem’s Day Music (1971) and Night Music (1972) show alluring, wide-ranging variety. Though thoroughly instrumental, they are akin to Rorem’s many art songs in exquisitely creating and sustaining a brief mood. Fleet virtuosity alternates with long-lined melody. Russell Platt is heard in two elegantly sad movements, appropriately titled Autumn Music (2005). The album reaches its apex in Peter Lieberson’s Elegy (1990), surely one of the most profound and moving chamber works composed in recent decades.

Overall, the compilation and performance capture deeply considered poetic reflection. Almond and Zeger perform with unerringtaste, spontaneous freshness and highly evolved, expressive sensitivity. The violin Almond plays, the ex-Lipinski Stradivarius, records with incredible richness, displaying a dazzling spectrum of colors. This marks its commercial recording debut. The curatorial choice of literature makes a case for substantial, sophisticated new music firmly rooted in romantic traditions. In this it succeeds handsomely.