Friday, April 4, 2008

Two Modes of Timelessness

The most interesting thing about Peter Frankl's Chamber Music Masters recital at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music was its two-century perspective on that element of the sublime in music in the contrast between Schubert and Kurtág. Schubert's D. 898 B-flat Major piano trio is one of his experiments with composing on a broad durational scale, but what ultimately drives this trio is the way in which time both flows and stands still at the same time in the Andante un poco mosso movement. Schubert was not always the best architect of duration; but he had one of the keenest sense of "the moment," whether in the brevity of some of his songs or in the larger expanses of chamber and orchestral music. Last night those moments of the trio were perfectly captured through Frankl's piano communicating intimately with the voices of Axel Strauss' violin and Jean-Michel Fonteneau's wonderfully elegant cello. For Kurtág, on the other hand, duration was a matter of collapsing everything into the shortest possible moments. There is a certain irony in his having done this in an homage to Robert Schumann, who had his own way of experimenting with extending the duration of musical compositions. However, Kurtág basically distilled Schumann's "cast of characters," Johannes Kreisler, Eusebius, and Florestan, down to the scale of haiku, resolving the opposition of the latter two by introducing a "Meister Raro" for a "middle way" inspired by Guillaume de Machaut, a middle way that seemed to have a lot to do with Machaut's hocket technique of creating a single musical line out of two voices. In this case Frankl performed with violist Jodi Levitz and clarinetist Jeffrey Anderle in an ensemble that also explored Schumann's approaches to new combinations of instrumental color, although Anderle's final soft tap of a bass drum was probably far beyond any combinations Schumann could have imagined.

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