CityMusic Cleveland is a 31-member chamber group whose admirable mission is to get music to the masses (or places where it is not so easily come by, and they are based in six different cities) and all at a reasonable — mostly free — price. Who can argue with such a concept as this? I have, in the past, come across similar ventures, all quite praiseworthy in intention, but alas, not so great hearing final results inexorably silvered to disc. This is one I almost passed over for review, but as fate would have it, in it went, and out came some very worthy and wonderfully played music, much to my surprise (and chagrin, actually, as I thought my reviewing chores were done).
I know that by looking at the heading you are wondering as I did, how a local group, a small chamber group, playing for free, dares to put out a recording with Mozart Symphony No. 39 as perhaps the featured work. What nerve! As it turns out, I probably would not purchase this disc for that alone,but this well-thought-out program has much more to recommend it; and the idiomatic and wonderfully played No. 39 (which is, by the way, fully competitive with any number of “name” recordings) is icing on an especially spicy cake. I kid you not — this is a breathtaking reading of Mozart’s third-to-the-end symphony by Gaffigan, and the chamber group, full and robust in sound.
The Stravinsky is a perfect opener, and all-too-rarely played as well. It wakes up an audience, as his rhythmic elasticity and complexity always do, and hits you in the face with a joy and bounciness that only Igor in his neo-Classical period can achieve. The CityMusic folks seem to be playing on the edge of their seats in an exciting performance.
But the real winner here, and the primary reason for buying this disc, is the superb offering by (unbelievably) 67-years-old Margaret Brouwer, one of our best composers, and certainly near the top. This VIolin Concerto, written specifically for this ensemble, is simply a marvel to hear, combining phenomenally difficult solo passages with some of the most ingratiating melodies I have heard in a recent composition in a while. For those of us who, years ago, were wondering where music might turn after the challenges of the atonalists, this is it. she is not afraid of the modern idiom at all, and uses whatever techniques are called for at the moment, but at the same time never loses sense of that fundamental and essential musical ingredient called melody. Just listen to the “Ballad” second movement inspired by a vocalist singing in a seaside Welsh cafe — these gorgeous, sensuous melodies have an almost popular-music feel to them, but Brouwer’s craft keeps it from slipping into anything even remotely insipid, and the tears on the cheek are not far away. The work ends in a veritable Gypsy orgy, high spirits with just a degree of danger inhabiting the outskirts. These last two movements make the opening, a dark and sometimes borderline melancholy, stand in great contrast, and deceptively set you up for wild changes in temperament that add to the frustration-elation cycle of the piece. Michi Wiancko, concertmistress of CityMusic Cleveland, plays as if possessed with an innate understanding of this music that lends itself to a completely convincing reading.
The sound is a little bloomy on this release, but not depreciatively so, and the ears adjust. This is definitely a possible Want List nominee, and from a much unexpected source. Bravo!
Steven E. Ritter
CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra that performs free concerts throughout Northeast Ohio,often accompanied by exhibits of local artwork.
Since exploding onto the scene in 2004, CityMusic Cleveland has won cheering audiences with beautiful music, brilliantly performed in familiar neighborhood settings.
FREE concerts - FREE childcare - make CityMusic concerts accessible to everyone!
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