The Plain Dealer: October 10, 2007

CityMusic Cleveland is something of an artistic bear hug. It reaches out to audiences and communities with free concerts of great music played to the hilt.

The chamber orchestra and music director James Gaffigan began their fourth season Wednesday by throwing arms around a new location, St. Vitus Church on Lausche Avenue in Cleveland. The city’s oldest Slovenian Roman Catholic parish opened its doors at this location in 1932, months before Severance Hall did the same due east. The church’s beauty could have proved distracting, but Gaffigan and his musicians made sure that the eyes or ears didn’t wander. Their program was a varied mix of beloved works that sounded buffed and polished in St. Vitus’ acoustical halo. String details sometimes may not have emerged in the reverberant space, but the sheer exuberance Gaffigan poured into Mozart’s overture to “The Abduction from the Seraglio” helped the music speak vibrantly. Rebecca Schweigert’s oboe solo was touching.

Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto introduced the first of the program’s soloists, Jinjoo Cho, a young artist of extravagant gifts. She is familiar to local audiences for appearances with the Cleveland Orchestra and Cleveland Orchestra Youth Orchestra. Her Mendelssohn confirmed she is maturing at a rapid pace. Cho played the first movement with intense concentration, shaping fervent and tender lines with equal sensitivity. The work’s difficulties posed no problems, nor did Cho stint on heartfelt lyricism in the slow movement. The violinist might relax a bit in the finale, where Mendelssohn’s elfin writing needs a sprinkling of charm. Still, Cho again gave notice that she is a forceful, expressive musician. Gaffigan and company provided tonal opulence while maintaining close contact with Cho.

In the scheme of American-music things, Samuel Barber’s “Knoxville: Summer of 1915″ must be deemed a treasure. Set to a text by James Agee, the young narrator paints a loving portrait of a Southern evening amid family. Gaffigan embraced the music by pointing out salient details and allowing the nostalgic paean to sing. His soloist, soprano Angela Mortellaro, was only partly successful clarifying the English text, especially in this acoustic. Yet Mortellaro did a lovely job defining the work’s emotions, and the orchestra savored Barber’s languid gem.

Ravel’s “Mother Goose” suite found Gaffigan in full sync with the enchanting atmospheres. The excellent oboe, English horn and contrabassoon solos conjured up a world of characters. The night’s encore was Strauss’ “Morgen,” which floated on Cho’s hushed violin and Mortellaro’s sweetness.

CityMusic performs the program at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, 21750 Detroit Road.

The Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg

CityMusic Cleveland concerts are made possible by audience contributions.

CityMusic Cleveland

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.
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