Elegance and Passion
Violinist Frank Almond, cellist Tamas Varga and pianist Stephen Beus play from the heights of the classical tradition.
Unbridled musical passion is one thing, and it’s exciting. Equally strong passion contained within overarching elegance is another. We have strong feelings in the Western high-art tradition, but we are also sophisticated, philosophical, virtuosic. We are men and women of the world.
Cellist Tamás Varga, pianist Stephen Beus and violinst Frank Almond combined passion and elegance Monday evening, on Almond’s Frankly Music series at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music.
Varga, as principal cellist of the Vienna Philharmonic, resides in the inner sanctum of the Western Classical tradition. You could hear it in the focused professionalism of his readings of sonatas for solo cello by György Ligeti and Hans Gál (1890-1987) and Jacque Ibert’s brief Ghirlarzana. He colored and thus helped distinguish the voices of the two conversationalists in Ligeti’s “Diologo,” and parsed out the syntax of interruption and insistence as the conversation became more tangled. Ligeti’s “Capriccioso” is a cello rave-up in the way that Paganini’s Caprices are violin rave-ups. But Varga didn’t rave; he celebrated the virtuoso tradition by shooting cello fireworks in all directions and making it look and sound easy.
The Ghirlarzana (1950) was all elegiac dignity and no breast-beating. Gál’s very late Opus 109a, rather like Brahms taken up a few steps in technical challenge, gave Varga ample opportunity to display his big, deep-breathing singing line in the first movement; his sly wit as dainty minuet figures peek out from dense harmonies in the second; and utter command of some of the most finger-tangling complexity imaginable.
The three musicians got together in Brahms’ Piano Trio in C. Everything that Brahms is resides in this trio: Nostalgia in aching and dreamy varieties, fiery “folk” tunes and dances, great surging build-ups to overwhelming climaxes built on rich and ingenious harmonies.
Never mind that Varga, Almond and Beus just got together Sunday to rehearse for the first time. The blend, the balance, the sense of the shape, weight and direction of the phrase were all just right. No one was cautious or tentative, they strode through the music confident and arm and arm. They sounded as if they’ve worked together for years. In a way, they have. They share a common tradition of passion corralled by skill, elegance and discipline, and viewed from a lofty distance.
Note: Stephen Beus is also the Milwaukee Symphony’s soloist this week. Beus will perform Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, with Francesco Lecce-Chong conducting, at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Marcus Center Uihlein Hall. Beus — who made Brahms’ rapid descending scales sounds deliciously liquid — will also give a master class at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 19.
Next Up for Frankly Music: The program reviewed here will be repeated at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 15. CD Release Preview Party concert at Wisconsin Lutheran College, 7 p.m. Feb. 25.
Hey, it’s Tuesday! Time for Danielle McClune’s Milwaukee This Week, a great guide to shows, concerts and activities through next Monday.