Frank Almond continues a busy month with a Frankly Music concert showcasing some of the MSO's finest players.
So…Frank Almond has had a busy couple of weeks.
On January 13 and 14, the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra concertmaster brought an exotic warmth to the front-and-center solo part that bridges the sections of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherezade. This past weekend, he mustered the MSO string section to lead them in a brilliant reading of Dmitri Shostakovich’s formidable Tenth Symphony.
And a little more than 24 hours after Shostakovich’s crashing final chords, Almond walked out onto the Schwan Concert Hall stage to introduce the program of the season’s third Frankly Music concert.
As with all programs in this don’t-miss chamber music series, Almond shared the stage with guest musicians from the MSO and around the country. The theme here, “Winds and Strings,” meant the violinist could catch his breath and let his colleagues take the spotlight for a while. Todd Levy brought his glowing, liquid tone to Leonard Bernstein’s Clarinet Sonata, an early piece notable for its spare piano accompaniment (sensitively played here by Jeannie Yu) and charged, shifting rhythms. Sonora Slocum had a dazzling solo turn with “Three pieces for solo flute” by Pierre-Octave Ferroud, demonstrating her powerful, glowing tone and masterful technique, bending notes gracefully to evoke the Chinese inspiration in Ferroud’s tone poems.
Slocum joined MSO colleagues Levy, oboist Katherine Young Steele and bassoonist Rudy Heinrich in Arthur Berger’s Woodwind Quartet in C Major, a quirky piece of modernist Americana that allowed all the players turns to take the often witty melodic lead. And Slocum opened the concert in one of Haydn’s charming London Trios, playing with Almond and cellist Peter Thomas.
The series of wind pieces allowed Almond a little break (and perhaps a nap) before the major piece of the program, the “epic” (his word), 42-minute Divertimento in B-Flat Major by Mozart. Written for string quartet and two horns, it’s nonetheless a demanding feature for the lead violin—in fact, it’s as close to a concerto as you can get in chamber music. Replete with witty and challenging passage work, several mini-cadenzas, and many, many notes.
Backed by an impressive ensemble (cellist Thomas, violinist Yuka Kadota, and horn player Dietrich Hemann from the MSO, along with horn player Alberto Suarez from the Kansas City Symphony and violist James VanValkenburg from the Detroit Symphony), Almond brought out the remarkable variety of Mozart’s music. He gave some of the cadenzas—the one separating the minuet and trio in the fifth movement, for example—some romantic Sturm und Drang. But also found court-music delicacy in Mozart’s intricate and challenging melodies. It’s a vast piece of work, but it never seemed so with the variety and grace Almond and his collaborators brought to the music.