Frankly Music offers dynamic readings of works by Ravel and Faure.

Think you know French music? Frank Almond wants you to think again.

To help out, Almond programmed a pair of two French compositions as the centerpiece of his latest Frankly Music concerts, and played them with the help of cellist Julian Schwarz and pianist Brian Zeger.

The first movement of Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello–one of the pieces on the program–was written as a tribute to Claude Debussy, who died in 1918. Ravel eventually finished it in 1922 and dedicated it to Debussy. As Almond pointed out in his introduction to the piece, it honors Debussy’s late style—not the glowing colors and textures of La Mer or the piano Images, but the restless experimentation of Jeux and the piano Etudes.

Almond and Schwarz’s high octane performance highlighted the electric excitement of Ravel’s homage. In the second movement, aggressive pizzicato motifs shared the stage with explosive, hard-bowed cello asterisks. There was a chance for some lyrical, mournful cello in the third movement, but the fourth concludes with a tailspin recapitulation of the piece’s earlier themes.

The real opportunity for wistful lyricism came in a lush reading of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Trio, Op. 120. Written around the same time as the Ravel duo, it is worlds apart in feeling and style. Faure wrote the piece late in life, when he suffered from a hearing condition that made loud sounds painful, and is both peaceful and autumnal (a feeling it shares with Brahms’ late chamber music). Zeger introduced it as one of his favorite piano trios, and lamented the fact that it isn’t played more often. The trio made its case beautifully. Schwarz’s has a muscular tone, which he used to imbue the cello lines with intense passion. And the acoustics of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church gave the ensemble an almost ghostly presence.

Zeger opened the concert with some charming piano sketches from Emmanuel Chabrier’s Pieces pittoresque. And Almond joined him to play Vocalise (1999), a lovely and gentle miniature written by Zeger’s Juilliard colleague, Philip Lasser. Zeger and Almond recorded Vocalise in 2010 (on the album, Portraits and Elegies).

The Frankly Music series continues in January with another program for piano trio, this one devoted to 20th Century Russian music.

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