Frankly Music makes big music
Violinist Frank Almond didn’t make it easy on himself or his guests, cellist Robert deMaine and pianist Andrew Armstrong, at the opener of his Frankly Music series Monday evening (Sept. 26).
The degree of difficulty in Ellen Taaffe Zwilich’s 1988 Piano Trio is off the charts. Blazing runs form wild gestures filled with toe-stubbing rests in all the wrong places. (Those scales reminded me of the Tasmanian Devil’s whirlwind locomotion in those old Looney Toons.) Some of them mutter and scuttle, others unleash Expressionist fury at high volume, and all of them advance at a breakneck pace. These crazed scales contrast sharply with disjunct, moonstruck melodies that are utterly static.
The second movement features an incantatory cello melody and a freaky piano solo with two set against three in the most uncomfortable ways imaginable. The finale reworks all of the above material an utterly fantastical ways and at an even more furious pace. This tense, formidable music never offers a relaxed moment. Zwilich is up in your face and in the players’ faces throughout. It’s all about thrills and chills, and these delivered them with the boldest sort of virtuosity.
Rachmaninoff went to another extreme in his youthful Trio Élégiaque No. 1 in G minor, from 1892. Just as Almond, deMaine and Armstrong went all the way with Zwilich’s classical thrash, they went all the way with Rachmaninoff’s glamorous melancholy. The generous vibrato and the yearning surge in the phrasing made for unabashed and affecting pathos.
Zwilich’s and Rachmaninoff’s pieces are essentially about one thing each. Brahms’ Trio No. 1 in B, Opus 8, though, is an expansive and varied sound world, rife with chorale, dance and ardent song, fitful in its swings between hushed intimacy and welling up into outbursts. The other pieces are short stories; Brahms wrote a novel.
This big-scale drama should ebb and flow, but always build. It should top itself again and again, though it seems for all the world as if all possible limits have been exceeded. Almond, deMaine and Armstrong, in complete technical and aesthetic command, built to climax after climax over four movements and reached the ultimate peak at the end. If you want more catharsis in your life, Brahms, Almond, Armstrong and deMaine have something for you.
This program, given at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music, will be repeated at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 27. Tickets and info right here. Joel Van Haren shot some rehearsal video for this concert; click here to see it.