Tom Strini
Frankly Music

Walton and Elgar at Wisconsin Lutheran

By - Apr 17th, 2012 01:34 am
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walton-elgar

William Walton (1902-1983) and Edward Elgar (1857-1934).

Monday evening, violinst Frank Almond and pianist Orion Weiss made a strong case for William Walton’s rarely performed Sonata for Violin and Piano.

This work, peculiar and challenging in every way, has a little shake of four 16th notes at the start. It sounds like an ornament of some kind, but it turns out to be the most important element of the entire first movement, more important than the sustained initial melody of which it is a part. Walton goes on for maybe twelve minutes, turning out endless versions of this insinuating little figure. The weird thing is, no matter the intervals — seconds, minor thirds, or bigger intervals expanded to six notes, it always maintains its identity. In all versions, it pops out of the busy textures like a flashbulb going off.

frank-almond

Frank Almond

Weiss and Almond had something to do with that. They played this figure with special rhythmic verve in each iteration, with the happy result of coherence built around this nugget of music. On first hearing, at least, it was impossible to grasp anything like first theme, second theme, development and recap. But you could feel the organic probing of this germinal little figure, wiggling relentlessly on its evolutionary way from start to finish.

Orion Weiss. IMG Artists photo by Scott Meivogle.

The second movement is a set of variations on a theme so bizarre that it affords no sense of a tonal center. It’s hard to grasp and hold in the mind and thus compare to the variations in the usual way of listening. Hearing this music was like walking through a strange, alien landscape. It’s all fascinating and new, unfathomable, but you can feel that it’s all related, even if you can’t say exactly how.

ilana-setapen

Ilana Setapen

This free-floating, irregular music puts a lot of burden on the players. Nothing about the phrasing is obvious; every other bar seemed to have an accelerando or ritardando. This was the first time with Walton’s sonata for both players, but they never got caught feeling their way through the music looking for the impulse. They decided on everything, agreed on everything, and played everything with authority.

Almond stayed British in both halves of this Frankly Music program, given at Schwan Concert Hall at Wisconsin Lutheran College. Violinist Ilana Setapen, violist Cynthia Phelps and cellist Robert deMain joined Almond and Weiss in Edward Elgar’s Quintet in A minor for Piano and String Quartet.

cynthia-phelps

Cynthia Phelps

Elgar’s music is more straightforward than Walton’s in both its forms and its sentiments. All three movements are variants of sonata form. The material refers to marches, dances, hymns and operatic song. The harmonies drive the music through time in the conventional way. The sum of it is a roiling play of elevated Romantic sentiments, from ardent love to reverence to heroism. My favorite bit is second theme of the first movement, a dreamy Spanish dance that turns fiery. Very seductive.

robert-demain

Robert deMain

The players just got together for this program, but you’d think they worked together all the time, so clean was their ensemble and intonation and so unanimous their feel for the weight and direction of the phrase. They felt the big contours together, too, and focused the entire work on the last moments, when they took it over the top.

This marked the end of Frankly Music’s regular season, but Almond has extended it with an extra concert. On May 21, Almond and accordionist Stas Venglevski will give an updated version of the tango program they played in February of 2011. This extra concert will take place at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center. Details here.

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0 thoughts on “Frankly Music: Walton and Elgar at Wisconsin Lutheran”

  1. Anonymous says:

    The quintet breathed as one in the Elgar – with an upper crust Edwardian attitude throughout. I liked the composition less than the energetic, always interesting Walton sonata. Elgar restrained the emotional content in his work. It seemed designed not to wake the King!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Those of us who have discovered Frankly Music, in my case, a bit late, know it’s going to be la creme de la creme no matter what,
    with everything illumined from the inside with utter sincerity, self-effacement which places the music first, with thorough and complete consummation of every micro climax judiciously measured with the naturalness of love. We felt that we were generously being given to–more than we could ever deserve–of great music making as we rested quiet in our seats last night.

    This time, I enjoyed the concept of viewing the sturdy Elgar in the shadow of early Walton. I became addicted to Elgar back in the days when I rode across country on good horses [belonging to someone else] out in the open air, and can always feel the burly breezes across soft grasses with artificial imaginings of swan-visited river ways when listening to his music, and although its measures are more suggestive of the human stride in long rugged hikes than of equestrian movements, it has that sense of hiking in riding tweeds
    with toughened muscles from the culture of the horse.

    Walton, parallelling a current nouveau interest in 50’s film noir, seems, in its almost bluesy resemblance to the likes of middle-period Scriabin, more of a coming of age, a music for those cosmic expansions in which the misery of bliss ranges freely, this without recourse to the limits of conservative modulation, but a modulation which suggests restless and perpetual improvisation–the kind of feverish improvisation which doesn’t let go–which grabs the musician and keeps him riveted to his instrument throughout the night.

    As in the visual arts, where there hardly seems to be a painting of stature which does not have a previous version by some other artist that was improved upon by *this* artist, and that earlier painting
    having been an improvement on a yet earlier one, it was inviting, on Frank’s suggestion, to look for ways in which Walton did the same thing.

    Barber was mentioned in his introduction and that composer definitely had a virtual reference, albeit very brief, in the piece, and I also sensed new treatments of Prokofiev’s moonier moments for slightly longer stretches.

    Having spent the entire day at the piano with Scriabin, I thought I also heard echoes of that composer’s late-period mystic chords in the Walton towards the end of the piece.

    This performance shared the kind of intelligence which comes from having a wider culture than just music, a worldly awareness that recognizes the rich complexities of great music as part of something larger that is every bit as serious as life itself.

  3. Anonymous says:

    Thanks for commenting, Valerie and Michael. — Strini

  4. Anonymous says:

    footnote:
    Walton’s “Hamlet” speaketh of both Shostakovich and Debussy

  5. Anonymous says:

    […] reviews here and […]

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