Gramophone: March 2008

M Brouwer • Mozart • Stravinsky
CityMusic Cleveland/James Gaffigan
CityMusic Cleveland CMC4 (68′ • DDD)
Recorded live in concert in 2007

The newest orchestra in Cleveland is priceless. That’s not an exaggeration, partly when you consider that the concerts CityMusic Cleveland gives around Northeast Ohio to advocate for classical music are free. But just as important is the level of the music-making, as this new disc of live performances reveals.

Founded in 2004, the professional chamber orchestra presents neatly balanced programmes dominated by beloved classical fare. This disc demonstrates, however, that music director James Gaffigan and company also enjoy a bit of adventure. Along with Mozart’s Symphony No 39 and Stravinsky’s Danses concertantes, the CityMusic forces perform a commissioned work, Margaret Brouwer’s Concerto for Violin and Chamber Orchestra, with the ensemble’s concert-master Michi Wiancko the alluring soloist.

Brouwer compsed her three-movement concerto with Wiancko’s heightened expressive and violinistic gifts in her ear. The work has long stretches of tricky, impassioned cadenzas and a second movement (“Ballad”) influenced by British folk-pop. This is no attempt at crossover appeal: the music sounds spontaneous and disarming. Brouwer adds dashes of gypsy music to the finale, in keeping with the soloist’s interest in music off the classical path.

Gaffigan was assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra when he became CityMusic’s music director in 2005, and he has continued in the post since moving on to the San Francisco Symphony as associate conductor. The performances on this disc confirm that he is a conductor to watch. His leadership in the Brouwer is rhythmically alert, a quality that extends to the urgently extrovert accounts of the Mozart symphony and neo-classical Stravinsky score.

In every piece Gaffigan draws incisive and flexible playing from the orchestra, whose strings are elegant and precise, woodwind full of character, brasses firm and timpani pointed (especially welcome in the Mozart). Many of the musicians were trained by members of the Cleveland Orchestra, whose winning traditions have apparently rubbed off.

Donald Rosenberg
Reprinted from Gramophone by permission.

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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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