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Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2013

Milwaukee’s Extraordinary Chamber Music Series

Frankly Music 10th season opened with Mozart and more

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Frankly Music, Milwaukee’s best chamber music series, celebrated the beginning of its tenth anniversary season last week in concerts at the Conservatory of Music. Frank Almond’s steadfast commitment to this series has been impressive. He has achieved and sustained a high artistic level in a variety of sophisticated programs. Besides his own high standard of playing, the parade of excellent guest musicians Almond has booked to perform on the Frankly Music programs over the years has been extraordinary. This requires not only taste and judgment, but also wide-reaching musical connections, not to mention logistical planning.

The general aesthetic approach of the concerts has remained constant: informal lecture followed by performances. It seems there was a time when public lectures for adult audiences were more commonly encountered. Almond’s casual, insightful and often witty remarks about the music to be performed are a pleasure in themselves, loosely in the spirit of the Chautauqua tradition. Almond has evolved to become a most entertaining and articulate speaker on classical music, which is not at all an easy feat, with a style that avoids the pitfalls of elitism, pandering or boring nerdiness.

Two familiar guests joined Almond: violist Toby Appel and cellist Edward Arron. The seldom encountered 1925 Duo for Violin and Cello by Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942) features rich techniques and textures that only a composer who is himself a string player could have conjured. The music is an attractive mix of folk-like elements, lyric austerity, intensity and drama, borrowing from various international styles. It reminds one that the 1920s were a time in the high arts when modernism was blossoming and a whole new world of ideas was gaining traction.

Two Mozart works were heard. Appel and Almond performed the Duo in G Major, especially persuasive in the lovely second movement. The ideals of chamber music—essentially an intimate musical conversation between players—were certainly in play in Mozart’s masterful Divertimento in E-flat Major for string trio, which was played on the first Frankly Music concert ten years ago. Chamber music does not get better than this.

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