CoolCleveland.com: October 1, 2008

Wow! Too bad the energy created in the opening concert of the Fifth Anniversary Season of CityMusicCleveland at Fairmount Presbyterian Church couldn’t have been converted to usable power. All the outages in the area could easily have been ended, if only that could have happened. The nearly-full audience, however, received a jolt to get the fall music season started with a real wowser of a program!

Guest conductor Danail Rachev was in total command of himself, the music and the musicians in such a way as to indicate he has a star-studded future ahead of him. The 30-something Bulgarian-born conductor gave charming introductions to the music, as well as leading the performances. Without a baton, I might add. Generally speaking, most conductors do use one, except for some choral performances, but based on this concert, he certainly doesn’t need one.

A late work by Richard Strauss, the Prelude to his final opera Capriccio, led off the program. The rich textures and lush melodies combine and weave sinuously around each other in a way that no other composer but Strauss could have produced. Because this was originally written for string sextet, only the strings of the orchestra were used here, further showing off the gorgeous playing by the new (interim) concertmaster for this season, Nathan Olson.

The metronome wasn’t yet invented when Franz Joseph Haydn composed his Symphony No. 101 in D Major, The Clock, so perhaps this work inspired it, thanks to the exact ticking by the bassoonists in the second movement. After a somewhat serious beginning to the piece, the impulsive and playful Haydn emerges, further demonstrating the terrific rapport between conductor and musicians.

George Sakakeeny and Eric Stomberg were precision personified, maintaining a steady beat throughout the Andante, except for the brief moments when the composer commanded otherwise. (Listeners to WCLV will recognize this part immediately as the background music for one of its sponsors.) The stately melody in the strings alternated with numerous unexpected dynamic chords, always accompanied by the tick, tock of the bassoons.

The strings were warm and lush providing background for the limpid flute solos by Heidi Ruby-Kushious, principal flute, and one of seven players (including Mr. Sakakeeny) honored in the program for having been with CityMusicCleveland since the beginning in 2004. Bravo, indeed!

The final movement Vivace was exactly that. Brisk, light and airy, but never muddled notes or sounds. At the end, the ebullient conductor asked the wind players to stand for their bows, then the string players, and happily shook hands with all the musicians around the podium.

The magic continued after the intermission with the awesome Double Concerto for Violin & Violoncello of Johannes Brahms. One doesn’t often think of this work as a piece for chamber orchestra, but this performance was simply superb! Kyung Sun Lee, violin, and Edward Arron, cello, were the outstanding soloists. Communication between the two of them and the conductor was so close, it was more than just on the same page — indeed, they were on the exact same note all the way through. The by-play between them was fascinating to watch, and the result was as intense and passionate a performance as I’ve ever heard. In a word: unforgettable.

Although both artists were demonstrative in their playing, Arron was the more intense and impulsive, Lee the balance wheel, pulling him back when he was bordering on impetuous. Each of them produced a rich, resonant sound, totally matching that of the orchestra which combined to fill the space with gorgeous music. Occasional little snippets of the composer’s favorite Hungarian rhythms emerged from this performance that allowed every musical line to be heard distinctly, not always possible in the full orchestra rendition and a larger performing space.

The artwork on display before, during and after the concert was mixed media and collage by Cleveland Heights artist Lynn O’Brien.

Music Director James Gaffigan returns in early November for one special concert — only — with cellist Joshua Roman on Wednesday, November 5, 2008, at 7:30 pm at Fairmount Presbyterian Church. During that week, the orchestra will also present educational concerts and a special family concert featuring Peter and the Wolf, the latter to also be at Fairmount on Saturday, November 8 at 3 pm. For more information about these or other upcoming concerts, visit the website at: citymusiccleveland.org.

From Cool Cleveland contributor 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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