Frank Plays the French

Frankly Music's Monday concert offers a varied yet all-French, and mostly Romantic program.

By - Nov 4th, 2015 02:10 pm
Frank Almond

Frank Almond

Next Monday evening, November 9, Frankly Music returns to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church for a chamber concert devoted to late romantic French music. Cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Brian Zeger will join violinist Frank Almond for this intimate concert.

Late in the 19th century French music developed an approach to classical music that rejected the heavy, complex style of German music of the time. The music was lighter, retrospective and open to subtle use of key, color and harmony. This program, Almond observed, will “almost be the complete opposite of our opening. It is a totally different language than the Brahms Quintet from our first concert.”

Pianist Zeger will play a three solo piano pieces by Alexis Emmanuel Chabrier. These works – Improvisation and Danse villageoise (from 10 Pieces pittoresques) (1881) and Habenera (1885) – are the oldest works on the program. The music is faster paced, more dense and driven by strong rhythmic patterns generally absent in the rest of the evening.

Maurice Ravel’s Sonata (Duo) for Violin and Cello (1920-22) unfolds delicately with reflective minor and major tonal shifts. Textural differences between the two instruments are the focus, rather than harmony. Tricky pizzicato elements, angular leaps and subtle dissonances expose a virtuosic dialogue between violin and cello. Says Almond: “Ravel’s take on the whole idea of a duo is totally revolutionary.”

A short work by contemporary New York composer Philip Lasser – a Vocalise for Violin and Piano (2003) — fits in well with the French mix. “His roots are French,” Almond observes. If anything, Lasser’s Vocalise is more romantic than the 1920 works by Ravel and Fauré being performed. Lasser’s music here is contemplative, with floating melodies and a bit of minor key brooding within an optimistic frame. He would have been quite comfortable writing at the end of the 19th century.

Gabriel Fauré’s penultimate work, Piano Trio, Op. 120 (1924) also retains a romantic era atmosphere while exploring more modern forms of development. Musicologist Kai Christiansen observes that “melodies build seamlessly from small rhythmic motifs that form chains, sequences and long lines as well as producing a mosaic of tiny fragments echoed throughout the ensemble in fluid imitation, the overlapping counterpoint of rich dialog.”

Given the sparse, retrospective character of the music being performed, the playing should be quite transparent. The music is simple, approachable, but calls for a precise approach that should allow each performer’s contribution to shine.

Note: In this large sanctuary, the choice of seats can make a difference for a small chamber performance. Arrive early for seats near the front. Chamber instruments blend within the transept, but do not carry as well into the rear of the church.

The concert begins at 7:00 P.M. on Monday evening, November 9. St. Paul’s Episcopal Church is located at 915 E. Knapp Street in Milwaukee.

Tickets – Students: $10; General Admission: $30 online, $35 at the door. A nominal handling fee is charged for online purchases.

Patrons can save 20 percent on purchases with a Frankly Music Friends membership. Besides getting savings on tickets all season long, Frankly Music Friends now get an additional special benefit: free audio streaming of selections from concerts.

A parking permit has been secured, allowing patrons to park for free in the Lincoln Center of the Arts School parking lot, directly west across Marshall Street. Enter the church through the front door on Knapp Street.

A piano trio will also form the framework for Frankly Music’s next concert, January 18, 2016. Frank Almond along with pianist William Wolfram and cellist David Requiro will play Russian music by Rachmaninov, Prokofiev and Shostakovich. The venue will change to Wisconsin Lutheran College.

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