Classical

Happy Birthday Richard Strauss


Frankly Music celebrates the music of the great but controversial German composer.

By - Nov 21st, 2014 05:01 pm
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The Frankly Music chamber music series continues November 24th, Monday evening at 7:00 PM at its new East Side venue – St. Paul’s Episcopal church. Monday’s concert honors Richard Strauss in his 150th anniversary year.

Tony Appel - viola

Tony Appel – viola

The formula for the series is “Frank and friends” – virtuoso artists who share Almond’s sensibilities for chamber music. Though the performers may vary, a core group has been a part of many of the concerts. This one includes many Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra players – violinists Illana Setapen and Yuka Kadota, cellists Susan Babini and Peter Thomas and bassist Andrew Raciti. They will be joined by two friends-of-Frank from New York – violists Toby Appel and Mario Gotoh.

The concert includes two Strauss works. His rich String Sextet, “Capriccio,” was actually written as the focal point of his opera by the same name. One of the leads in the opera has written the sextet to convince his paramour that music is the greatest art. A competitor makes a claim for poetry. (Spoiler alert, opera – combining all the arts – appears to win in this work.) Strauss composed a piece channeling the composer within the opera – a lovely, not-so-serious work more in the spirit of Der Rosenkavalier and a great distance from his more contemporary operas such as Salome and Elektra.

Almond suggests that one of Strauss’s last works, “Metamorphosen,” also on the program, would make the better case for music as transcendent art.

Strauss was near the end of his life and witnessing the end of the Germany he knew. Controversy remains over the choices Strauss made to stay in Germany serving at the pleasure of the Hitler regime. He was unable to protect some of his family members and friends from the madness of the Third Reich. War created chaos and bombs destroyed the performance halls he treasured.

Much has been written to interpret Strauss’s intent in “Metamorphosen.” Strauss did not say. But the work is a profound one. The music devolves through a complex transformation ending in profound sadness. The funereal music from Beethoven’s “Eroica” symphony is quoted near the end of the piece. But the somber atmosphere is taken further – to despair. It is as though Strauss is saying, Almond suggests, “we went from Beethoven to this!” But Almond recognizes that “there are moments of great beauty and hopefulness (within it). ..Each time I play it I hear something even more amazing.”

Susan Babini - cellist

Susan Babini – cellist

Strauss wrote “Metamorphosen” for a chamber orchestra – scored for ten violins, five violas, five cellos, and three double basses. Frankly Music will perform the septet arrangement with two violins, two violas, two cellos and one bass. Almond likes the reduced version because it “has a nimbleness and a kind of individuality – flexibility (that) you can’t get with a conductor running the show.“ But he acknowledges that the original delivers “sonic power with a really great string section playing the piece.” That will be demonstrated when DeWaart conducts the Milwaukee Symphony in the string orchestra version on February 26th and 27th next year.

Almond continues the tribute to Strauss with a major chamber work by Mozart — “to acknowledge Strauss’s lifelong admiration of Mozart,” as Almond notes. Mozart’s late quintet, String Quintet no 3 in C major, K515 will feature the two visiting violists Appel and Gotoh as well as cellist Babini. Placing the emphasis on these instruments adds a deeper, darker sonority to the sound. Although containing the joyful and inventive characteristics of all of Mozart’s chamber music, this quintet allows a more serious and powerful statement than the usual quartet. Almond finds this large work moves in “unexpected directions that must have shocked his contemporaries.” It represents the fully mature Mozart — “some of the most profound chamber music that has ever been written,” Almond believes. That alone should be reason enough to attend the concert.

Frankly Music will perform at 7:00 PM at St. Paul’s Episcopal church, 915 E. Knapp St. Tickets may be purchased at the door ($35) or in advance through the Frankly Music website ($30). Student tickets are available for $10. 

Or take advantage of the new Frankly Music Friends membership program. Pay $50, then purchase tickets for family and friends (up to 10) at 20 percent off. Discounts apply to CD’s and t-shirts as well. (Apply your savings to a tax-free donation to Frankly Music.) Free parking is available west of the church at the Lincoln Center for the Arts.

Plan to stay after the concert for a post-concert reception with the artists. The creative menu features “unique takes on comfort food classics like pimiento mac and cheese and pumpkin cheesecake bites, wine, cider and more” and is included with admission.

The series next returns to its West side location on the Wisconsin Lutheran College campus on Tuesday, February 10th. Almond has selected works associated with his “Lipinski” Stradivarius as a lead-in to a likely second CD on the subject.

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