Review: Frankly Music and the Lipinski Stradivarius
Monday night, Frank Almond spoke amusingly and affectionately about the Lipinski Stradivarius violin, born in Cremona, Italy, in 1715 and currently resides in Milwaukee in Almond’s hands on indefinite loan.
Almond, with the excellent Jeffrey Sykes at the piano, played a recital comprising mostly music associated with this magnificent instrument. What grand and subtle sounds emanated from it, as Almond and Sykes made their way through the Devil’s Trill sonata by Giuseppe Tartini, the first known owner.
The Tartini sonata is a show-off piece and perfectly fitting in an evening that was all about the violin. It wasn’t the only one; Almond also played Pablo Sarasate’s Malagueña, Opus 21 No. 1, and Introduction and Tarantella, Opus 43, with the devil-may-care elan that makes you want to shout ¡Olé!
The Sarasate selections, by the way, were the only ones with no known connections to the Lipinski violin. Almond wanted one such piece on this Frankly Music program. It was to have been Ravel’s Sonata in G. Then he found out that a Panamanian violinist had played it, with Ravel at the piano, in 1928, a year after it was composed.
He played it anyway, and I’m glad. The piece is wonderful, with all sorts of nifty nods to jazz. The middle movement, a sort of cubist take on the blues, pushes blues pitch inflections to the border of bitonality. Ravel gave Almond an exceptional chance to reveal the vast array of timbres lying within that little wooden box, and Almond showed us the rainbow.
An irresistible little Romance by Clara Wieck Schumann and Robert Schumann’s Sonata No. 2, Opus 121, completed the program. (The Schumanns knew violinist Joseph Joachim, a former student of Karol Lipinski, very well.)
The Schumann sonata is high, dramatic Romanticism with the weight of the world on its shoulders. Almond announced its serious intent by digging deep into its opening chords and declaring the to-be-or-not-to-be rhetoric of the introduction as if he meant every note.
He and Sykes sustained that intensity throughout the piece, and not only when Schumann was shaking a fist at heaven. The aching, gentle nostalgia of the slow movement was just as gripping.
The Lipinski Strad was utterly overwhelming in the cozy Bader Recital Hall of the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music. This is an awesome instrument.
But it is only an instrument. As I listened to Almond, I recalled a famous anecdote about Jascha Heifetz, who owned two Strads. After a concert, an enthralled patron said to him, “Oh, Mr. Heifetz, your violin sounds so beautiful.” He held it up to his ear and replied, “Funny, I don’t hear anything.”
A great violin is a wondrous thing. But it’s nothing without a great violinist.
This Frankly Music program will be repeated at 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 30. The concert is sold out; call 414-940-8870 to check the stand-by list.