Power of Five

By Charles Donelan
January 17, 2007

Written for violin and piano, the piece is a superb example of the genuine and significant impact of the theater of the absurd, dada, and surrealism on composition. “Klangwölfe” is played so quietly that it frequently lingers on the threshold of the audible. The piano lid is completely closed, and the violin is muted. The score explores some radically unconventional territory for the bow—very close to the bridge, or else far up the fingerboard—and it specifies that the violinist remain seated, which goes against the norm for sonatas. The piece ends on a massive rest, injecting absurdity even into the method of its reception.

For fans of avant-garde music, this performance was a rare treat. The sensuous intensity generated by Frautschi’s extraordinary control of the bow in the service of Kagel’s otherworldly harmonics was truly memorable. Thanks to Spence for reminding all of us that the new music is not necessarily growing old, as Adorno feared, and that the capacity of classical music to produce a sense of wonder remains profound.

The other piece on the first half of the program was a Benjamin Britten cello sonata that gave Warren Jones the opportunity to work with Emil Miland, who brought great passion and vitality to the piece. After the intermission, there was nearly an hour’s worth of late Schubert: the String Quintet in C Major, Op. Post. 163, played by Frautschi and Miland, joined by Sara Parkins, violin, Donald McInnes, viola, and Ani Aznavoorian on a second cello. The work itself is unusual—the ordinary string quintet formula involves an additional viola, rather than a second cello—yet full of Schubert’s most satisfying and fully realized writing. The performers were more than adequate to the task, and the result was sparkling and enchanting. The audience response was just as remarkable: a standing ovation that included a decidedly un-classical component of whoops and hollers.