CITYMUSIC AND QUIRE CLEVELAND MAKE ST. STANISLAUS GLITTER WITH MOZART AND SCHUBERT ClevelandClassical.com: May 11, 2009
Several weeks a year, for the past five years, Clevelanders have been
given wonderful treats — fine concerts of orchestral music performed
free of charge and brought to venues in their own neighborhoods. Oh,
and with "Clevelanders", it seems we can include our neighbors in Lorain
and Lake counties, as well as urban and suburban Cuyahoga. I'm speaking,
of course, about CityMusic Cleveland, which celebrated its five year run
of free neighborhood concerts this week with a program it called Heaven
& Earth, including Mozart's 'Jupiter' Symphony (No. 41 in C, K.551), and
Schubert's Mass No. 2 in G. As always, the program was repeated at half
a dozen venues in the course of the week; this reviewer caught the
performance Saturday evening at the Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus in
Cleveland's Slavic Village neighborhood.
When CityMusic was founded in
1995, the role of Music Director was taken on by 26-year-old James
Gaffigan, then Assistant Conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra. In the
intervening years, the path of an aspiring young conductor has taken Mr.
Gaffigan to California, to accept the post of Associate Conductor of the
San Francisco Symphony. However, he has continued his work with
CityMusic and still returns to Cleveland to lead most of the programs.
Mr. Gaffigan's conducting style can be summed up as "sprightly" — he
favors brisk tempos, especially in traditionally "slow" movements (a la
Toscanini), and crisp articulations. His performance of the 'Jupiter'
was true to character: the Andante cantabile had a throbbing intensity
and drive throughout, and the Menuetto kept a genuinely danceable pace.
After five years of performing in the beautiful but resonant acoustics
of St. Stanislaus, so different from the dry acoustics of the modern
concert hall, Mr. Gaffigan has learned how to lead his orchestra to
deliver those crisp articulations, which he did, especially in the brisk
fugue in the Finale.
Heaven & Earth was billed as five-year anniversary
celebration, and for the second half CityMusic was joined by the
20-voice Quire Cleveland, directed by Peter Bennett, which has yet to
taste its first birthday cake. In the past year, Quire Cleveland has
presented several programs of a capella choral music from the
Renaissance, but in the Schubert mass, these accomplished local singers
proved themselves equally at home in the late Classical style. Solo
parts in the Schubert were given fine performances by soprano Chabrelle
Williams and tenor Roy Hage (both students at Oberlin College, but
already demonstrating professional poise), and baritone Matthew Hayward.
Ms. Williams and Mr. Hayward had especially beautiful moments together,
as a duet in the Gloria and with alternating solos in the passionate
Compared with the better known orchestral masses of Haydn and
Mozart, the Mass in G (written in 1815 for the church of Lichtental,
where Schubert was a parishioner) is a modest, subdued work. The "wordy"
movements — the Gloria and the surprisingly subdued Credo — come off as
perfunctory expositions of text. Only in the later movements —
especially the fugal setting of 'Hosanna in excelsis' in the Sanctus and
the lyrical Benedictus — does Schubert give room for more musical and
interpretive expression. The Benedictus is a trio for the soloists, and
unfortunately in that movement Mr. Gaffigan's penchant for swift
andantes, which served him so well in the 'Jupiter', merely kept the
music from achieving its lyrical potential.
The forces and conditions of
this performance (chamber orchestra and choir, high-ceilinged
reverberant church), were perhaps very similar to the ones Schubert
would have had for the premiere of the Mass in G, and the baroque space
of St. Stanislaus glittered with his music. CityMusic has developed
quite a strong following, and the approximately 700 people in attendance
nearly filled the large church. An encore after a performance of a
choral mass doesn't seem like an obvious choice, but Mr. Gaffigan
returned to the podium to lead the forces in Mozart's beloved, gem-like
setting of Ave verum corpus — especially beloved, it appears, by Mr.
Gaffigan himself, who played it not once through but twice.