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Versatility keeps violinist's fingers nimble

Jennifer Frautschi's taste runs wide, but the core repertoire is always on her playlist too.

By John Fleming, Times performing arts critic
Published November 29, 2007


Preview
Florida Orchestra

Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday at Ferguson Hall of Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, Tampa; 8 p.m. Saturday at Mahaffey Theater, St. Petersburg; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall, Clearwater. $19-$54; students $10. (813) 286-2403 or toll-free 1-800-662-7286; www.floridaorchestra.org.

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You never know what sort of message will show up on your answering machine. Here's how Jennifer Frautschi got asked by conductor Robert Craft to be the soloist for an important new recording of the Stravinsky Violin Concerto.

"He and his wife left me a message and said, 'We would like you to record the concerto next month. Are you free?' " says Frautschi, who knew Craft from previous projects. "That's how it happened. It just so happened that I had just played it for the first time."

Frautschi's excellent performance of the concerto was recently released on the Naxos label, along with Craft's interpretations of The Rite of Spring and other works by Stravinsky, with whom the conductor was a close friend and collaborator from 1948 until the composer's death in 1971.

"Because of Craft's relationship with Stravinsky, his knowledge of the score, his experience helping prepare the concerto back in the '50s, when Stravinsky was conducting, it was really exciting for me to get to work on it with him," Frautschi says of the recording session, held about a year ago in London with the Philharmonia Orchestra at Abbey Road studios, where the Beatles made their albums.

Craft brought "his own very musical take" to the Stravinsky concerto, the violinist says. "By musical I mean that he has a conception of it that is much less astringent than I think a lot of people perform it these days. People often view it as kind of a forbidding piece, whereas there is actually a lot of lightness and beauty in it. I think he really brought that out."

This weekend, Frautschi is playing a very different kind of work with the Florida Orchestra. She's the soloist in Glazunov's lushly romantic Violin Concerto. The all-Russian program, conducted by Stefan Sanderling, also includes Mussorgsky's Night on Bald Mountain and Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances.

"I have somewhat more of a preference towards playing unusual repertoire, but it's great to keep myself grounded in core repertoire with something like the Glazunov," Frautschi says.

"Just from a violinistic standpoint, it's important to keep a lot of different repertoire in your fingers. You require very different physical skills for playing something like a Mozart or a Tchaikovsky or a Brahms concerto or a newer piece that often requires more jumping around, less melodic writing, that kind of thing. If you end up playing just one kind of music, I think the muscles that you use for other music can start to atrophy. For physical grounding, it's important to play a lot of different kind of music."

Frautschi, who grew up in Pasadena, Calif., and went to Harvard, plays a 1722 Stradivarius violin, which has been on loan to her for about seven years from a U.S. foundation.

"Having an instrument like this allows me to make any kind of sound I want," she says. "The range and palate of this instrument is what makes it very special."

John Fleming can be reached at 727 893-8716 or fleming@sptimes.com.