The Plain Dealer: February 22, 2007

Franz Joseph Haydn was called “Papa” during his lifetime for reasons musical and otherwise. Most importantly, he was one of the earliest fathers of the symphony and string quartet, and his creative gift extended to many other forms.

You certainly can hear Haydn’s paternal clout in his Cello Concerto in C major, in which tempestuous personality, sublime tranquility and sheer, virtuoso fun come into brilliant play. The performance of the concerto that cellist Matt Haimovitz gave Wednesday with CityMusic Cleveland at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights had charismatic authority written all over it.

Haimovitz, who often eschews orchestras and concert halls to appear in coffeehouses, brought caffeinated zest to his duties. He led the performance from the cello, leaving many of the tempo-setting demands to concertmaster Michi Wiancko. Haimovitz swayed to and fro when not playing to keep the music on its transcendent trajectory.

When he did set bow to strings, he invested the music with a superb balance of muscularity and ardent poetry. Haimovitz used his robust sound to intensely vibrant effect, always with a keen sense of phrasing and detail to animate Haydn’s brainstorm. The finale was a rousing race with every note in musical context.

Yet this wasn’t just a showcase for a stellar cellist. Haimovitz suspended the sustained, wistful gestures of the slow movement with utmost sensitivity, and he interacted with the CityMusic players as if they were on an entrancing chamber-music holiday.

The night’s other guest was Danail Rachev, assistant conductor of the Dallas Symphony. The Bulgarian-born Rachev collaborated closely with the Cleveland musicians in Mendelssohn’s “The Fair Melusine” overture and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2.

The Mendelssohn is an opportunity for conductor and players to travel on serene and stormy seas. Rachev shaped the breezy aquatic episodes with seamless fluidity and invigorated the moments of dangerous drama.

The performance benefited from the glowing solos of clarinetist Amitai Vardi and flutist Heidi Ruby-Kushious. The small string contingent played with shimmering urgency, the winds were fresh and the brasses and timpani punctuated their lines with exceptional point.

Beethoven is in a bright mood in his Symphony No. 2, and Rachev made sure the score’s chipper aspects leaped from the page. His pacing could be a bit too excitable for the music to settle, but the performance was coherent, vital and gorgeously played.

The program, which is free, is repeated at 8 tonight at Andrews School, 38588 Mentor Ave., Willoughby; 8 p.m. Saturday at St. Stanislaus Church, 3649 East 65th St., Cleveland; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, 21750 Detroit Road. Call 216-321-8273.

From The Plain Dealer music critic Donald Rosenberg

CityMusic Cleveland concerts are made possible by audience contributions.

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