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[whitespace] High Strung

A winner of the Santa Cruz County Symphony's Klein Competition delivers a brash and fearless new CD

By Scott MacClelland

AMONG THE STREAM of talented winners of the Irving Klein String Competition (named after the father of onetime symphony music director Mitchell Sardou Klein) to appear with the Santa Cruz County Symphony, few have produced their own recital CDs. One stunning exception is a new Stravinsky/Ravel program by violinist Jennifer Frautschi, who was featured in the Brahms' Double Concerto performance of April 1998.

On the Artek label, Frautschi makes easy work of some of the most challenging works in the repertoire. With Marta Aznavoorian at the piano, Frautschi takes on Stravinsky's Duo Concertante and Divertimento, and Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Piano and Tzigane. In these works, Stravinsky makes exceptional technical demands, while Ravel raises the ante with unique expressive requirements as well. Frautschi proves herself throughout this 64-minute program with a brash and fearless assault. Her playing continually reminds one of those tennis superstars who raise their game as the difficulty increases. Frautschi plays like a woman possessed with a need for artistic conquest. Her passion comes through vividly, unmistakably, even in these works which are known for cool dispassion. Of course, Ravel's Tzigane, which comes at the end of program, finally matches the intensity of its player and fairly catches fire.

While the Stravinsky works are arguably more objective, more decorative, Frautschi smolders her way through them, brilliantly articulate, flawlessly in tune and tone. That the extra push she applies to the last notes of phrases and cadences becomes predictable raises a question of taste--it is certainly not needed and at times seems overwrought. But this is a minor quibble in the face of such an authoritative display.

Moreover, Frautschi mixes up her technique to good effect. Even a casual listen detects a sharp demarcation between the end of the Duo and beginning of the Divertimento. And the shift of character to the Ravel is even more startling. Indeed, the French composer's sonata gets a superb reading, colorful beyond expectation and shot through with spirit.

Artek is the brainchild of artistic director Elmar Oliveira and producer Judd Robbins. Yes, this is the same Elmar Oliveira who is widely admired as one of the finest violinists performing today. In a recent conversation, he told of the frustration he and many classical artists feel at how they are often the last to be consulted about the very releases the record companies hire them to create. "Artists have very little hand in how the product is presented, nothing to do with program notes, marketing, choice of repertoire, even choice of edits in the final product," Oliveira complains. He points out that while many record companies will refuse to record another Brahms and Saint-Saëns concerto coupling, Artek's biggest seller is his own Brahms and Saint-Saëns concerto CD. "How many people working for record companies are truly qualified to make these decisions?" he asks without expecting any argument.

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From the August 16-23, 2000 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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