Ensemble
Acclaim
Frankly Music closes season with diverse program

From a seven-minute Stravinsky sampler to a mammoth Chausson piece that defies categorization, Frankly Music ended its 11th season in fascinating style Monday evening at Wisconsin Lutheran College.

The concert featured violinist and host Frank Almond with pianist Winston Choi and the Aeolus Quartet, a young ensemble that began winning national awards in 2009.

The quartet — violinists Nicholas Tavani and Rachel Shapiro, violist Gregory Luce and cellist Alan Richardson — filled the program's first half, opening with Igor Stravinsky's brief "Three Pieces for String Quartet," written in 1914.

In their hands, the three short pieces were vivid musical snapshots. The aggressive, almost angry sounds of the first movement gave way to the disjointed dance-like sounds of the second and then the moody, melancholy third.

The players moved from the Stravinsky piece to the intense, expressive colors and textures of Claude Debussy's String Quartet in G, Op. 10, creating an ensemble sound that was warm, colorful, and somehow creamy.

Although they moved to biting attacks and brighter or edgier sounds as needed, the group's core sound is full, warm and beautifully blended. They played with exceptional attention and sensitivity to one another, each taking the musical lead, following or meshing gracefully into the ensemble sound throughout the performance.

They reveled in the colors, textures and expressive lines of the Debussy quartet, moving from an intense first movement to sparkling pizzicatos in the second. Their gentle, deeply expressive third movement gave way to a completely engrossing fourth movement, which included moments with the distinct character and sound of jazz standards.

The concert's second half was filled by Ernest Chausson's Concerto for Violin, Piano and String Quartet, a marvelously exhausting piece that defies easy description.

Almond and Choi changed musical hats easily, convincingly and often. They delivered soaring solo passages, including some virtuosic piano writing, joined forces as an intimate duo, added small musical interjections here and there, and then immersed themselves in the ensemble sound and texture elsewhere.

Likewise, the Aeolus Quartet moved from the spotlight to the background as the music demanded. The ensemble served as an accompaniment to the solo instruments at times and as a highly polished voice of its own elsewhere, giving a brilliantly focused, thoroughly involving performance throughout.

Elaine Schmidt, Milwaukee Journal Sentinal
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