The Plain Dealer: February 24, 2006

Mozart is seizing much of the classical limelight this year, when his 250th birthday is being celebrated with ample performances of his music. One of Mozart’s iconic colleagues, Beethoven, deserves equal attention, even though he’s a mere 235.
The superb chamber orchestra known as CityMusic Cleveland is paying respects to Beethoven this week with area concerts devoted to the composer’s Triple Concerto and Seventh Symphony. Do not mistake these performances for bargain-basement Beethoven, though they’re free. (You may, of course, plop dollars into the collection plate). Plentiful musical intelligence and instrumental panache make this a compelling listening experience.
The ensemble’s first concert of the series on Wednesday at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights excelled where one almost thought it couldn’t. Beethoven’s Concerto for Piano, Violin and Cello is dastardly difficult to pull off. Because the work’s substance is less inspired than in the master’s transcendent scores, it requires musicians who can bring a high degree of animation to the artistic conversations.
By all means, CityMusic has found the right soloists. With pianist Daniel Shapiro, violinist Kyung Sun Lee and cellist Edward Arron at the controls, this was one of the most involving performances of the Triple Concerto I’d ever heard. Each soloist knew his or her place in the narrative and textures, and they collaborated as if drawn naturally to one another.
The cello can be smug in this piece, since it has the most luscious and athletic part. Rather than dominate, Arron used his penetrating sound and urgent expressivity in superb balance with his partners. Lee cast rays of sunshine on every violin line, while Shapiro interacted like a chamber musician, blending or asserting himself as he produced pearl-like sonorities. James Gaffigan, CityMusic’s gifted music director, brought a fine mix of muscularity and sensitivity to his duties. The orchestra responded with playing of bold refinement, offering Beethoven on an intimate, transparent scale we don’t usually hear.
The Seventh Symphony had moments of visceral excitement, notably in the finale’s exuberant dance.
Elsewhere, the performance didn’t sound quite settled. The first two movements were on the sluggish side.
In the Allegretto, Gaffigan quickened the pace midway, when this tempo would have motivated the activity beautifully from the outset. Even so, the nervous energy that propels Beethoven’s Seventh often infiltrated everyone’s bones. In its second season, CityMusic remains a fantastic addition to our musical scene.
The program is repeated at 8 tonight at United Methodist Church of Willoughby Hills, 34201 Eddy Road; 8 p.m. Saturday at Shrine Church of St. Stanislaus, 3649 East 65th St., Cleveland; and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Rocky River Presbyterian Church, 21750 Detroit Road.

Friday, February 24, 2006
Donald Rosenberg
Plain Dealer Music Critic 

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