Plain Dealer: September 24, 2008

Isn’t CityMusic Cleveland a marvel? The professional chamber orchestra that plays free concerts around the region has become one of our most polished and pleasurable ensembles in a very short time.

CityMusic began its fifth season Tuesday at Fairmount Prebysterian Church in Cleveland Heights with a program that couldn’t have been more alluring. Led by Danail Rachev, assistant conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, the ensemble performed works by Strauss, Haydn and Brahms with bountiful finesse.

Their challenges were pieces by composers in full maturity. Strauss wrote his final opera, “Capriccio,” in his late 70s. It is an exploration of the genre itself, a work that asks: Which comes first, music or words? There is no answer (or is there?), but Strauss’ score is among the most luscious in his canon.

Rachev and the CityMusic strings made the prelude to “Capriccio” sound like a warm sonic blanket, minus fuzziness. Lines were clearly deployed and balances achieved to fine effect. The music’s serene beauty floated through the church, with several solos — especially from interim concertmaster Nathan Olson — emphasizing Strauss’ incomparable lyrical gifts.

As Rachev pointed out, Haydn symphonies pose special problems in terms of character and technique. Then he led a performance of the Symphony No. 101 (“Clock”) that was obstacle-free. Haydn’s sly wit, charming ardor and rustic buoyancy found the musicians in alert, aristocratic form.

Rachev is a conductor who puts his body into music-making to purposeful effect. Leading without baton, he gave vibrant shape to phrases and provided the impetus for the players to function at their peak. The winds and first violins were irresistible in their tick-tock duties in the second movement; flutist Heidi Ruby-Kushious and bassoonist George Sakakeeny were the refined soloists in the third.

After intermission, Rachev and company turned to Brahms’ Concerto for Violin, Cello and Orchestra, which has stature beyond its unusual pairing of solo instruments. Here the composer employs rich thematic ideas to generate affectionate and vehement conversations among the performing forces.

The soloists were violinist Kyung Sun Lee and cellist Edward Arron, who lavished detailed fervor on their individual and collaborative efforts. Lee’s sleek artistry proved a fascinating foil to Arron’s bold intensity. With Rachev and the orchestra embracing Brahms’ autumnal glow, the performance was one to store in the memory bank.

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

CityMusic Cleveland concerts are made possible by audience contributions.

CityMusic Cleveland

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

Since exploding onto the scene in 2004, CityMusic Cleveland has won cheering audiences with beautiful music, brilliantly performed in familiar neighborhood settings.
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