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Frank Almond's Talents in Full Display for 'Winds and Strings'

Jan. 31, 2017
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It was a night of varied and rich chamber music at Frankly Music last week at Schwan Hall, Wisconsin Lutheran College. For years now, Frank Almond has brought in top players to join him in program after program. This was no different. Titled “Winds and Strings” it featured primarily wind and string players from Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, as well as guests from the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and the Kansas City Symphony.

Almond’s talents were in full display in the sprawling, 40-minute Divertimento in B-flat Major (K. 287) by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. It’s almost a violin concerto, more difficult than any of Mozart’s concertos for the instrument. All six movements are quite something, but I was most taken by the Adagio movement, which brought colorful, simpatico, plaintive melody from Almond that was some of the most heart-felt expression I’ve ever heard from him.

Sonora Slocum was dazzling in three pieces for solo flute by Pierre-Octave Ferroud (1900-1936), the last of which combined sensuality with a tour-de-force showpiece. Todd Levy and Jeannie Yu gave a masterful, fluent, sophisticated account of Leonard Bernstein’s Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. There is not space to mention all the other good players and pieces on this excellent concert.

Later in the week, on Friday evening, Asher Fisch led the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra in a brilliant performance of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4, full of buoyancy, spontaneity, poetry and power. Soprano Tamara Wilson, one of the most exciting younger voices today, communicated with heightened sensitivity in Richard Wagner’s Wesendonck Lieder. Wilson’s voice, with its richness in the low range and spine-tingling high notes, was heard a couple of years ago as Donna Anna in MSO’s Don Giovanni.

Fisch is a huge talent on the podium, one of the best guest conductors ever to lead the MSO. He showed his deep experience as a singer’s conductor in the Wagner songs.  He artfully shaped the Tchaikovsky symphony with confidence in the players, and they responded with their very best. The concert began with Arnold Schoenberg’s Chamber Symphony No. 1, with its churning angst, lush decadence and quasi-triumphant ending.

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