A “Famously Unplayable” Masterpiece

Frank Almond and a crack crew of guest artists take on a bizarre, brilliant chamber work by Chausson.

By - May 13th, 2015 02:08 pm
Aeolus Quartet - cellist Alan Richardson, violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist Gregory Luce. Photo by Nathan Russell

Aeolus Quartet – cellist Alan Richardson, violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist Gregory Luce. Photo by Nathan Russell

Frankly Music concludes its series of Wisconsin Lutheran College concerts at 7:00 PM Monday night, May 18th, in a concert that brings together violinist Frank Almond, an accomplished pianist (Winston Choi) and a dazzling quartet (the Aeolus Quartet) in a “bizarre” but brilliant masterpiece by Ernest Chausson. And that’s just one work in the program.

Devoted followers of the Frankly Music series are attracted to the guest performers Artistic Director Frank Almond builds into the program. Seasoned performers with experience playing chamber music are able to quickly gel in the temporary ensembles of a series concert. They have learned to share responsibility for interpreting the music and to listen to each other. Occasionally, Almond has invited young artists to participate as well, but he is taking no chances here. “The goal is to get people on the way up,” he says. “(Later) it would be difficult to for me to afford to get them back.”

This time Almond will feature the Aeolus Quartet, a hot young ensemble formed at the Cleveland Institute of Music in 2008. The group has stayed together while completing advanced degrees and serving university and community outreach programs at Stanford, Austin, Houston and elsewhere. They have won numerous awards for their playing as well as special honors for their “highly innovative and engaging” youth outreach programs.

The quartet is completing a two-year residency as the Graduate Resident String Quartet at the Julliard School, assisting the Julliard String Quartet with their ensemble and chamber music instruction and achieving the Artist Diploma in String Quartet Studies. Rarely does a group this young have the opportunity to focus their careers on playing together.

The Aeolus Quartet will perform Claude Debussy‘s impressionistic String Quartet in G minor, op 10 (1893). Debussy’s string quartet breaks substantially with past formal structures. Critic Keith Anderson observes that ‘Debussy never bothered with formal development, bold ideas just rising out so naturally against the background when their time comes.” The work displays Debussy’s familiar, sensuously impressionist style.

The Aeolus will also play a very different work by Igor Stravinsky: Three Pieces for String Quartet (1914-18). The three short sections offer compelling contrasts: a Russian dance reminiscent of Petrushka, an eccentric image of an English music-hall clown and “Canticle,” a calm liturgical section evocative of Byzantine icons.

The program highlight is the aforementioned, rarely heard masterpiece by Chausson: Concerto in D for Violin, Piano, and String Quartet (1889-91). Critic Steven M. Whiting writes that the work is “based on the notion of friendly competition between heterogeneous elements, a solo violin, a string quartet, and a piano. By turns, the work is scored as a violin sonata, a piano solo, a string quartet or quintet, a piano quintet, or (when tutti) a piano sextet.” Opening as a conservative work for string quartet, the solo violin takes an intensely dramatic turn and the piano, in turns, accompanies the quartet or violin or takes on dramatic roles of its own.

Winston Choi. Photo by Chad Johnston

Winston Choi. Photo by Chad Johnston

Almond reflects that the work is “wonderfully bizarre .. a very powerful (work) with a unique texture.” Such a challenging piano role required another special guest. “The piano part is famously unplayable – a real piano concerto on its own,” Almond reflected. He and Choi have played this piece together. “We have a great pianist, which is key to how well the piece comes off.”

Choi serves as Associate Professor and Head of Piano at the Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University and has maintained an active performing and recording career. A champion of contemporary music, Choi has premiered and commissioned over 100 works by young composers as well as established contemporary masters. He has previously appeared in Milwaukee with the Philomusica Quartet.

The concert is at Schwann Concert Hall, 8800 W Bluemound Rd, Milwaukee. Note the 7:00 PM start. $35 tickets may be purchased at the door or in advance through the Frankly Music website or through the Wisconsin Lutheran College box office: 414-443-8802. Student tickets are available for $10.

One thought on “Classical: A “Famously Unplayable” Masterpiece”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Sounds like this will be an amazing concert! Thank you for the review!

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