Frankly Music

Maestro Almond closes the season

Frankly Music's season ends on happy notes of Mendelssohn, Dvorak and Haydn.

By - May 14th, 2013 04:25 pm
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Frank Almond, conducting at rehearsal Monday. Doug Bruce photo.

Frank Almond and many friends came together Monday evening at Wisconsin Lutheran College for a satisfying chamber orchestra concert, which closed Frankly Music’s 9th season.

The orchestra achieved an ensemble sound with the assurance of an ongoing group. In a way, they are; most of them play in the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, and Almond is the MSO’s concertmaster. This was a busy weekend for many of them, as they fit three short Frankly Music rehearsals between stints of Florentine Opera performances and rehearsals for next Friday’s Milwaukee Symphony event.

For the first time, Almond left his Lipinski Stradivarius in the vault to focus on conducting. In real contrast to Edo deWaart’s restrained movements, Almond extended his arms, leaned back and used much of his body too shape the music, like a black swan flying through a Tchaikovsky ballet. The process worked. The orchestra responded as an effective ensemble and made the most of the bright dynamics in the music.

The selections were modest ones, with little of the tension inherent in classical chamber music or the drama of works written for full scale orchestra. The selections were lovely, cheerful and full of interesting variation. Almond and friends made the most of their more subtle elements.

Antonin Dvorak’s Serenade for Strings, Opus 22, highlighted a first half limited to strings. The first movement allowed each section to contribute to development of a lyrical melody. Rhythmic playing above or below the section carrying the theme added energy, and involved all as equal partners in the dance. A second movement featured a courtly waltz. Carefully shaped swells of sound contributed momentum. The scherzo section sent players into perpetual motion. Continuous variation and changes of pace and volume kept interest high. A lovely larghetto section offered a tranquil reprise. The finale sparkled. A jovial Bohemian village dance was punctuated by off-beat accents, rapid sequences, slower recollections of earlier movements and a brief, joyful coda. Almond focused on the internal dynamics of this cheerful piece. He emphasized swells and transitions, quick changes of volume and  hand-offs of themes among sections. This perpetually optimistic work set the pattern for the program.

The evening closed with Joseph Haydn’s 92nd Symphony in G. The string orchestra was supplemented by winds, brass and tympani. This symphony breathes – with rests between phrases as important as the ongoing momentum. The dynamic in this symphony is created by layering the sound through creative orchestration.

Strings open; winds join in and tympani contribute tempo and strength. Flute and oboe share key themes. As the work develops, horns, then trumpets add to the cheerful mix.

Energy is not allowed to dissipate in the adagio cantabile movement, even as breaks in tempo interrupt the legato flow. Flute and oboe are featured in a lovely duet.

A lively dance opens the third movement, but a mischievous irregular beat trips up this minuet. Sections are broken several times by long, awkward pauses. When the orchestra recommences, texture and pace have changed. In the central trio, horns and bassoons carry on a dialog with pizzicato strings. All of this good humor serves the music well.

Violins and cellos start a whirling dance to complete the symphony. Full orchestra joins in a more intense dance. Strategic pauses demarcate even more energetic reprises of the dance.

In a different sense than Dvorak’s Serenade, Haydn’s symphony is joyful from beginning to end. Invention, humor and energy reach symphonic levels Dvorak does not attempt. Flute and oboe melodies, motifs in horn and bassoons and substantive backing from trumpet and tympani brighten and add depth to the work.

The concert opened with a short student work, String Sinfonia No 10 in B minor, by Felix Mendelssohn. Mendelssohn wrote his 10th string symphony at age 14 – a mere two years before he wrote some his best loved compositions. The Sinfonia opens with a brief, chromatic adagio.  Most of the 10 minute, single-movement work is given to a richly romantic allegro section. Almond stressed harmonies and the frequent changes from lilting melodies to more rapid development sections. The viola section was featured in dialog with the violin sections. At times the exchange was out of balance as all 12 violins  could overpower five violists.

The Frankly Music series will resume in the fall for a 10th Anniversary Season. The full schedule will be available later this summer on the Frankly Music web site.

Categories: Classical, Music

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