CoolCleveland.com: December 18, 2007

CityMusic Cleveland creates enough musical sparks when they play, it’s no wonder this wintry program was titled Fire and Ice. From the very beginning notes of Beethoven’s overture to The Creatures of Prometheus, there was an extraordinary amount of energy wafting through the air of Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights last Tuesday night.

Guest conductor Julian Kuerti, (who has Cleveland ties) led a brisk and heroic reading, with the musicians ever alert to the changing rhythms and dynamics. As is the custom, he also provided engaging spoken commentary before each piece. After explaining that the Meditation on the old Czech chorale,’St. Wenceslas,’ by Josef Suk was not the same as the more well-known carol of that name, he demonstrated with an affectionate and warm performance by the strings of the orchestra. I think there is a family resemblance between the two carols, however, as, on occasion, it did sound vaguely familiar. Interesting.

The slightly dry (but wonderful!) acoustics of the church afforded harp soloist Megan Levin an astonishing degree of clarity in Debussy’s Danses sacree et profane. Both the dreamier, languid segment and the brisk, more worldly and slightly sensual portion were distinct entities, and beautifully performed.

Franz Joseph Haydn was well-known for his musical hijinks. His Symphony No. 59 in A major or “Fire” may not have been intentionally difficult, but keeping up with the composer’s idea of ‘as fast as possible’ could certainly lead a less accomplished orchestra into worlds of trouble. No problem here, however, as CityMusic’s players are more than capable. The high horn parts in the third and fourth movements were superbly performed by Matthew Marks and Ken Wadenpfuhl.

The ‘ice’ portion of the program came in the second half, with the Three German Dances, by Mozart. The third of these in his K605 is the one known as “Sleigh Ride,” which is as bouncy and up-to-date as any composer could write today. This version was made even more memorable by the use of actual handbells in the hands of various orchestra members. The gentle and mellow sounds they made were a charming reminder of a dashing ride through the snow in a horse-drawn sleigh. The second dance allowed the basses to have their moment in the solo spotlight.

For all his youth, Mr. Kuerti has recently been appointed an assistant conductor of the Boston Symphony, and from the variety of music on this program, it’s easy to understand that decision. The CityMusic strings and winds plus harp combined poignancy with a touch of romanticism for the prayer from Tchaikovsky’s Mozartiana. Nearly a century after Mozart’s death, the Russian composer cleverly assimilated Mozart’s bouyancy with his own lyricism and rich, lush sounds.

The finale was a small, yet sumptuous buffet of Czech Legends by Dvorak. We heard lyrical, danceable, delicate, melodic, brisk and pastoral sounds and rhythms and dynamics, separately and together. It was an incredible performance.

For years, I’ve been convinced that some conductors and performers have a special affinity for music of their homeland. Certainly Mr. Kuerti imbued these pieces with warmth and elegance, along with the requisite sparks, but I think there is an added connection between musicians of a similar age, as evidenced by the (mostly) youthful orchestra members here and the usually youthful conductors. The energy they transmit to the music is awesome.

In a nod to the holiday timing, the audience was invited to particpate in the encore – a sing-along version of “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Indeed, the angels must surely have been singing along, too!

The art on display was by Leigh Bennett.

Thanks to Lake Hospital System, to hear what you might have missed–or thoroughly enjoyed–whichever, the December 13 concert was taped and will be broadcast on WCLV-FM on Sunday, December 23.

The next set of concerts by CityMusic Cleveland will be February 20-24, 2008. For specifics, visit the website: http://www.citymusiccleveland.org or call 216-321-8273.

From Cool Cleveland conributor Kelly Ferjutz artswriterATroadrunner.com

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CityMusic Cleveland is a professional chamber orchestra that performs free concerts throughout Northeast Ohio,often accompanied by exhibits of local artwork.

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