CityMusic Cleveland - official website

The Plain Dealer: May 6, 2009

CityMusic Cleveland is an essential part of the region's musical fabric. Just ask Mozart and Schubert.

The Viennese masters have the pleasure of spending nearly an hour with the chamber orchestra on the program music director James Gaffigan is leading this week to end the ensemble's fifth season. As short as the concert may be, it's full of transporting and towering achievement.

CityMusic presented the program, "Heaven & Earth," Wednesday at Cleveland's St. Vitus Church, a space far more beautiful for eyes than ears. The church's reverberant acoustics create layers of sound that are generous at the high and low ends but wooly in the middle. Inner voices and details tend to get lost within the vague ambience.

Even so, the music-making that could be discerned served the composers to telling effect. Few symphonies have greater impact on brain and heart than Mozart's Symphony No. 41, subtitled "Jupiter," which conductor and players explored with bold and sensitive assurance.

Gaffigan took every repeat, allowing the audience to rediscover the extraordinary compositional feats in all their splendor. Contrasts between majesty and lyricism were stressed, and phrases breathed with natural grace. Even the acoustical halo that surrounded the musicians diminished neither the finale's miraculous unfolding of materials nor the orchestra's alert, silken playing.

Unlike Mozart in the "Jupiter," the 18-year-old Schubert doesn't try to rattle the skies in his Mass No. 2 in G major, which is more concerned with joyous and tranquil spirits than drama. The movements are short and mostly radiant, aside from the final, solemn "Agnus Dei," in which the teenaged composer hints of probing things to come.

The performance had ample rhythmic buoyancy and poetic elegance under Gaffigan's thoughtful guidance, and the soloists - soprano Chabrelle Williams, tenor Roy Hage and baritone Matthew Hayward - proved to be stylish Schubertians, when they could be heard.

The score's choral duties were entrusted to the inspired voices of Quire Cleveland, the new professional ensemble that focuses mainly on Medieval and Renaissance repertoire. On this occasion, it was delightful to hear director Peter Bennett and his choristers also bring exceptional purity of pitch and crisp enunciation to the Classical needs of Schubert's youthful lines.

And what an encore: Mozart's "Ave verum corpus," in which Quire floated the haunting lines on streams of the freshest air.

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