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Monday, Nov. 22, 2010

Frank Almond’s Lyric Gifts at MSO

Classical Review

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Honesty and fairness are my aims as a critic. For the first time in more than 12 years at it, I feel I must admit that I cannot find objectivity in reviewing Frank Almond’s performance of the Concerto for Violin and Orchestra by Samuel Barber with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra last weekend. In my music publishing career I have spent more than a year deeply living through Barber’s music and writing about him and his work, creating new editions marking the composer’s 100th birthday. At present I am in the midst of making a new edition of the violin concerto. To make the circumstances even richer, I directed and produced a just-released recording of Barber music for violin and piano, on which Almond was a brilliant violin soloist.Istate all this in the fairness of full disclosure.

Frank Almond’s lyric gifts as a player are a perfect match with Barber’s music. Leading with melody and phrase in the first two movements, he approached themusic often as would a singer, with expressive freedom and warmth. This was particularly true at the second performance on Saturday evening. I was overwhelmed with emotion more than once. Had I not been sitting in public, I would have broken into sobs. Barber’s natural melancholy dominates the second movement. The third movement, written just after Barber, like all Americans, was ordered home from Europe in 1939, is the flip side of melancholy, a headlong dive into manic anxiety, performed with panache.

Edo de Waart lovingly conducted the concerto, without sentiment, but the emotion so present in the music fully bloomed. He allowed Almond space and room for expression. Barber’s unique orchestral sounds came through clearly, as did the shape and phrase of the music. I found the performance equal to the several recordings of this beloved concerto.

The concert began with a wonderfully sensitive, fresh reading of Grieg’s Suite No. 1 from Peer Gynt. Clarity and cleanliness were hallmarks in Bartók’s Concerto for Orchestra, even if the Friday evening performance was a little conservative and careful.
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