French Connection — Frankly Music at St. Paul’s


Frankly Music continued its concert series here at St. Paul’s with a program of French Music by Emmanuel Chabrier, Maurice Ravel, Philip Lasser, and Gabriel Fauré. Appearing with Frank Almond were cellist Julian Schwartz and pianist Brian Zeger. The concert was enjoyed by a full church, and a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel review by Elaine Schmidt appears below:

 

Milwaukee’s Frankly Music series turned St. Paul’s Episcopal Church into a French salon Monday evening, with a program of French and French-inspired music.

Joined by cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Brian Zeger, MSO concertmaster Frank Almond presented an evening of music by Emmanuel Chabrier, Maurice Ravel, Gabriel Fauré and Philip Lasser.

The program opened with two pieces from Chabrier’s Pièces pittoresque and his Habanera, all for written for solo piano. Zeger began with a charmingly beat-heavy take on the Dance villageoise movement from Pièces pittoresque, playing with one metaphorical foot in the past and the other in the Romantic era. He moved to a charmingly seductive take on Habanera before returning to Pièces for a musically free interpretation on Improvisation, which came across the footlights in a constantly shifting wash of lovely colors.

Almond and Schwarz followed with Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. Their impassioned, expansive performance let the piece’s intricate musical details, technical effects and inventive form shine. Opening with delicate, ephemeral wisps of sound, the two gave vivid character to each of the sonata’s four movements, trading ideas and capturing easily its many moods. They opened the piece’s second movement with a spirited pizzicato conversation, moving to soulful cello lines and beautifully entwined passages throughout the third movement. And they brought energy and focus to a fourth movement that was full of musical surprises.

Almond and Zeger gave an elegant, expressive performance of Lasser’s lyrical Vocalise for violin and piano, playing as musical partners, not as soloist and accompanist, and combing smooth, legato lines with warm, enveloping timbres. 

The evening closed with a fascinating performance of Fauré’s seldom-heard Piano Trio, Op. 120, written late in the composer’s life. The players used intimate musical gestures and tightly woven ensemble work to highlight the piece’s touchingly introspective elements. They brought a light touch to the first movement, leaving one a bit sad to see it end. They then offered a wistful, poignant take on the long, arced phrases of the second movement (with a bit much cello sound in spots), followed by a gentle, emotional tug of musical tension and resolution throughout the third movement.

Frank Almond (violin) in rehearsal with cellist Julian Schwatz and pianist Brian Zener for the November 9th concert, “French Connection.”


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