Two little-known works by British composers comprised the last concert of the Frankly Music season, heard last week at Wisconsin Lutheran College. I wish other leaders in the community in various disciplines could speak as well as Frank Almond does about music, as is his custom in this series.
Almond expressed enthusiasm in recently discovering William Walton’s Sonata for Violin and Piano, composed in 1948, and rightly so. The piece has richness and variety, and recalls the textures of Ravel at times. The lyricism of this music is an excellent vehicle for Almond’s abilities. He played with an apparently easily conjured vibrant and buoyant sound. Pianist Orion Weiss coaxed the best sounds I’ve ever heard from the resident piano in Schwan Hall, with a highly evolved touch, creating a beguiling ringing, clear tone that I did not know could come from this instrument. Of all the excellent pianists I’ve heard Almond paired with over the years, Weiss seemed the very best match in phrasing and tone. There was an unusually sophisticated ease and fluidity to this performance.
One of Almond’s major accomplishments in each Frankly Music season is bringing to town musicians of the highest caliber as guest artists. This shows not only his taste, but also his ability to attract such talent. Almond and Weiss were joined by violist Cynthia Phelps, cellist Robert de- Maine and violinist Ilana Setapen in Edward Elgar’s Quintet in A minor, Op. 84.
Written in 1918-19, this British romantic piece sounds nostalgic for an era that has passed away. Much of the string writing is more orchestral, and less intricate, than typical chamber works. This often simple, tender texture requires refined sound, and this group of musicians had it in spades. As an ensemble, it was one of the best Almond has ever assembled.