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CITYMUSIC CLEVELAND AUDIENCES ENJOYS HUGE PAYOFF AT FREE CONCERT
Plain Dealer: February 20, 2009

Genius rears its miraculous head at many ages, as CityMusic Cleveland's program this week acknowledges to blissful effect.

Mendelssohn was 16 when he composed his Octet for Strings. Schubert died at the age of 31, two months after completing his String Quintet in C major. We can only weep at the thought of what these creative artists -- and others, such as Mozart and Gershwin -- might have bestowed upon the world had they not been taken away too early.

Let's be grateful for what we have. To hear the iconic Mendelssohn and Schubert works on the same program is akin to approaching sonic nirvana, especially when played by musicians who interact almost to the artistic death.

The CityMusic ensemble that gave its first free performance of the week Wednesday at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights seemed determined to convey the music's expressive substance as if nothing else in the universe existed while these scores were in motion.

The program was a revised event for CityMusic Cleveland, which originally had planned chamber orchestra concerts this month. But the gods of economy convinced the organization to scale back for this week's concerts, and all of the participating musicians -- a blend of orchestra players and notable guests who serve on the orchestra's artistic advisory committee -- agreed to waive their fees.

(CityMusic officials make assurances that the orchestra, which has never had an operating deficit, again will be in the black this year.)

In Schubert's C-major quintet, the musicians breathed the transcendent lyrical lines as one and propelled the eruptive dramatic material. Violinists Kyung Sun Lee and Catherine Cosbey, violist Eric Wong and cellists Edward Arron and Keiko Ying treated the sublime slow movement with prayerlike radiance and fervor.

After an interminable intermission, they were joined by violinists Zsolt Eder and Peter Salaff and violist Charles Krenner for Mendelssohn, who packed enough masterpieces into his 38 years to put a cornucopia of composers to shame. His Octet is among the greatest, as the CityMusic ensemble revealed with refined alacrity.

Was it a bit too elegant and careful? The performance benefited from Lee's brilliant agility in the virtuoso first-violin part and Arron's eloquent generosity, and Mendelssohn's tenderness and mystery were vibrantly defined. But the piece could have used dashes of jovial mischief, which should arrive as the musicians allow the score's youthful spontaneous combustion to work its awesome spell.

Donald Rosenberg, Plain Dealer Music Critic
To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: drosenberg@plaind.com, 216-999-4269.