by Guytano Parks

Perhaps you’veGilbert-Daniel noticed: this is an orchestral concert without a conductor. That gives the performance a ‘chamber music’ quality, with the musicians working together as partners rather than looking to a single leader. So it’s appropriate that the ‘concerto’ on the program is really a piece of chamber music.”

The preceding description of this particular performance of Weber’s Clarinet Quintet (performed in an expanded chamber orchestra arrangement) in CityMusic Cleveland’s program notes for their March 6 concert could apply to the entire program, which also included symphonies by Mozart and Haydn. Soloist on this occasion was Daniel Gilbert, CityMusic Cleveland’s principal clarinet since 2010 and previously second clarinet in The Cleveland Orchestra (1995-2007). For the past eight years, opening night of CityMusic Cleveland’s string of concerts on consecutive nights throughout the area has been at Fairmount Presbyterian Church. This setting proved to be acoustically very satisfactory as the sound of the ensemble was extremely rich and resonant.

Since the concert was performed without conductor, guest concertmaster Aaron Berofsky upheld his duties with admirable authority, leading and etching clear lines in Mozart’s Symphony No. 26 which opened the program. Mozart wrote this short three-movement work (one movement fewer than the customary Classical symphony) as a teen-ager while employed in Salzburg. The three movements are played without pause, likening the symphony to an old-fashioned overture (a ‘sinfonia’) for the theatre.

Notable for exemplary ensemble, this performance teemed with energy. Chomping-at-the-bit syncopations and dotted rhythms prodded the opening Molto presto forward. Attention to details of phrasing, articulation and dynamics plus clean attacks and releases also gave this movement shape and definition. An impassioned, darker character was expressed in the Andante before the third movement’s Allegro excited with the re-entry of horns and trumpets.

In Weber’s Clarinet Quintet, Daniel Gilbert was positively brilliant, meeting every technical challenge not only with virtuosity but with musicianship of the highest order. From creamy legato to punctuated staccato, Gilbert’s tonal palate is kaleidoscopic, befitting this tour du force of a piece. With two or more players assigned to each part plus the addition of double bass to the cello line, the strings provided a lovely cushion of sound against the clarinet’s mellifluous sound in addition to sections where they shone in more prominent writing. Gilbert tossed off rapid, seamless scale passages running up and down the entire range of the clarinet with breathtaking evenness of tone and articulation, as he did the dramatic leaps and figurations in the Allegro.

In the Fantasia(Adagio non troppo), Weber’s background as an opera composer is apparent and in full-bloom. It is a profound, inspired movement which afforded Gilbert the opportunity to transform into a bel canto singer with coloratura abilities. His pianissimo delivery of ascending chromatic scales, then echoing fainter in pianissimo was hauntingly beautiful. The Menuetto (Capriccio presto) dazzled with its buoyancy, charm and wit as Gilbert playfully scampered about the movement. A joyous romp through the Finale (Allegro con spirito) by both soloist and ensemble brought the piece to an exciting close. This was chamber music rapport to remember.

Mr. Gilbert was joined by CMC’s principal double bassist Tracy Rowell in a delightful encore which paid tribute to his jazz upbringing: Morton Gould’s Jaunty, the eighth movement from Benny’s Gig, written to commemorate Benny Goodman’s 70th birthday.

Haydn’s Symphony No. 86 (one of a set of six composed for a concert series in Paris) is written in the bright key of D major, where trumpets sound their most brilliant. CityMusic’s trumpets and horns certainly shone in this performance, despite a couple of missed notes. The woodwinds also contributed admirably with precise and balanced playing. The slow Adagio introduction sets the mood of seriousness of occasion before launching into a joyous Allegro spiritoso. It pulsed forward with energy, full of fine playing by all forces.

Unexpected gestures, deceptive cadences, far-ranging harmonies and surprises characteristically abound in Haydn’s music, and such is the case in the Capriccio (Largo). From the onset, this unconventional movement tip-toed forward as the strings and bassoon played a sequence of four rising stately chords. The prevailing sense of Sturm und Drang was punctuated by jarring chordal outbursts.

Haydn established the third-movement minuet (from French court music) as a conventional addition to the Classical symphony, but in this case, the Minuet and Trio (Allegretto) is much more like a German waltz. Notable in the trio section was the string pizzicato under the woodwind melody. This was all played with grace, charm and character.

Repeated notes played a major role in stirring up excitement in the Finale (Allegro con spirito). Its celebratory atmosphere was further enhanced by the emphatic beats of the tympani in addition to the glory of the brass. Although the strings were in very fine form during the entire concert, there was an ever-so-slight sense of the tempo running away from the players in one spot, but they held it all together, finishing the symphony — in the words of an 18th-century reviewer — “in sublime and wanton grandeur.”

Published on ClevelandClassical.com March 8, 2013

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