Tom Strini
Frankly Music

Chopin and Schumann con brio

By - Mar 22nd, 2011 12:13 am
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Adam Golka

Pianist Adam Golka and cellist Anthony Ross flew in to join violinist Frank Almond in Schumann’s extremely difficult and wildly passionate Trio No. 1 in D minor, Opus 63. I don’t know how much rehearsal time they had, but Monday night, on Almond’s Frankly Music series, they sounded as if they’d been touring together for five years.

Their cohesion and collective grasp of the music astonished me. The way they handled this one little molecule of the trio indicates the whole: In the first movement, the strings leap from a pick-up note to a sustained tone, and a half-beat later piano jumps in with a couple of eighth notes. That is, the piano does this: (rest) pah-PAH! The strings repeat their bit a little higher, and the piano follows.

It would be all to easy to just play the passage hear the piano part as mere accompaniment, even filler. But the passage meant more because of the way these three guys understood it. Almond and Ross hit their sustained tone hard, then pulled back immediately. Note that Golka played pah-PAH!, not pah-pah. The strings responded to that PAH by cranking up the volume on the sustained note. The drama of the moment came through as mighty energy expended, then flagging, then bolting anew with the crack of the whip. And it was thrilling.

Frank Almond

That level of awareness and energy informed every bar of the trio, music as furious and urgent as any artifact of musical Romanticism. It doesn’t play itself; it needs a great performance to get across at all, and it got one Monday.

Golka and Ross opened with Schumann’s Five Pieces in Folk Style, Opus 102. As Golka and Ross played it, Schumann seemed to be slumming a bit in the first movement, Mit humor. The players exaggerated everything and made it a satire of florid sentimental song. But then came a lullabye, also sentimental in a common way, but no less sweet and touching for that. A stately 6/8 dance maintained a certain dignity, despite yards of woozy glissando double stops for the cello. Two brighter, more vigorous sections completed the set, with the finale a weird sort of march with — I think — a dense development where the trio should be. This piece is out there. I’d like to hear it again, to hear what I missed on the first time around the block with it.

Anthony Ross

Golka took care of Chopin all by himself. He played 12 of the Opus 10 Etudes by memory. He chose them well, for striking contrast from one to the next. The first, for example, showed off rapid keyboard-wide arpeggios; the second was all about high scales in rapid 32nds. The third was about legato melody. The fourth had to do with trading off the same material between hands and registers. And so on.

Golka’s technical mastery of all this is absolute. That’s two-thirds of the battle. The last third is character, mood, aroma, whatever you want to call it, and Golka got that too, from the glitter of showers of diamonds to galloping hooves to low murmurs to trembling earth to “Revolutionary” explosion.

Anthony Ross is the principal cellist of the Minnesota Orchestra. Adam Golka, based in Houston, plays on the international circuit. Frank Almond is concertmaster of the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra. This program, given at Wisconsin Lutheran College, was the last of the Frankly Music season.

0 thoughts on “Frankly Music: Chopin and Schumann con brio”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Pianist Adam Golka returned cautiously to the stage for his solo presentation of the Chopin Preludes. He looked like a shy Clark Kent in his large frame glasses, bowing briefly to the audience from near the back of the piano. He sat down quickly and immediately launched into a flourish of virtuoso arpeggios. Clark Kent indeed! The downside of the Chopin anniversary is that it has brought many underwhelming efforts by pianists who should stay away from the challenge. Golka proved to be among the best interpreters of Chopin I’ve heard. He has a light, certain, accurate touch that is more difficult for pianists like Garrick Ohlssohn, whose large hands must struggle to balance the rapidly changing dynamics.

    Although the trio was masterfully presented, it demonstrated the difficulty of writing a trio that balances piano with strings. In forte sections, the piano dominated. But generally, the players kept the sound in balance.

    As much as I like our local talent, Frank demonstrated again that selecting the best from a larger pool can create a memorable event.

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