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Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Edgy and Exciting

Classical Review

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Two little known and innovative Vivaldi violin concertos (so obscure that orchestra parts previously did not exist) were featured on the season finale of Frankly Music last Monday at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Series director Frank Almond played the solo line with sparing vibrato, used primarily only on long notes as a color device. At its best it was rhythmically sizzling, edgy and exciting, and appropriate on the period violin he plays. I think Almond would be the first to admit that it would take some time to become completely fluent in this approach to Baroque style. Still, it was a valiant, risky performance with fascinating results.

The ensemble was comprised almost entirely of Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra players. Almond is a supreme musician of good taste who knows what he wants, which is most of what a conductor needs. This concert marked a maturing turning point for him on the podium. He led an interesting early work by Mendelssohn, Sinfonia No. 10 for strings, and Haydn's Symphony No. 82 ("The Bear"). The musicians played with a defined, tight ensemble and sharp contrasts.

On Tuesday night the Prometheus Trio concert, at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, featured a rarely encountered 1922 piano trio by Gabriel Piern (1863-1937). The style is unmistakably French, a mixture of impressionism and broad-lined romanticism. Pianist Stefanie Jacob, violinist Timothy Klabunde and cellist Scott Tisdel played with commitment and fervor. Though not uninteresting, two pieces by Milwaukee composer Jason Seed felt an odd match for Piern and Beethoven's Trio in E-flat, Op. 70, No. 2.

Pianist Elena Abend, one of our ablest local musicians, had not performed for more than two years, due to a painful physical ailment affecting her hands. It was a happy occasion to see her back onstage Sunday afternoon, appearing with members of the Fine Arts Quartet at UW-Milwaukee. Abend's elegant ease and clean, agile touch were a joy in Haydn's "Gypsy" Piano Trio, played with violinist Efim Boico and cellist Wolfgang Laufer. The performance of the great Shostakovich String Quartet No. 8 that followed was brooding and profound.

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