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Tchaikovsky concerto has a glorious champion in violinist Dylana Jenson
Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, March 17, 2011

CityMusic Cleveland is a bargain well beyond the price it charges for admission, which is nothing. The chamber orchestra also happens to make music on the highest level.

The special facet of its program this week is the appearance by violinist Dylana Jenson, who was a phenomenon when she burst onto the international scene in her teens and remains so. The saga of Jenson’s career struggles, especially her long search for the right instrument after a loaned Guarneri del Gesu was abruptly taken away from her, can’t distract from the fact that she is a superlative musician.

Her vehicle with CityMusic is the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, a beloved work that often suffers the slings and arrows of outrageous overexposure. In Jenson’s performance, the piece sounds as enthralling and poetic as the composer intended it to be.

At Wednesday’s opening performance at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, Jenson, CityMusic and conductor Joel Smirnoff were still coming to terms on matters of tempo. There were moments when the violinist moved ahead and her colleagues weren’t quite nimble enough.

Otherwise, this was a glorious account, with Jenson pouring forth streams of warm and sterling sound from her violin, built in the 1990s by Samuel Zygmuntowicz. She wrapped her arms around the first movement’s opening theme, giving it both space and motivation.

The acrobatic passages that Tchaikovsky laces through the work were easy feats in Jenson’s articulate fingers and remarkable bow arm. In lyrical passages, the violinist phrased with elastic sensitivity, always regarding lines as utterances of songful expressivity.

Jenson’s playing in the finale was startling in clarity and dexterity, but she placed virtuosity at the service of Tchaikovsky. Smirnoff, also a violinist, gauged balances well, and the orchestra – those few poky passages aside – supplied bountiful energy, subtlety and sonorous appeal.

Before Smirnoff returned after intermission to conduct Bizet’s Symphony in C, the orchestra’s strings paid tribute to victims of the devastation in Japan with a noble reading of the Air from Bach’s Third Orchestral Suite.

Bizet wrote his symphony at the age of 17 – the same age at which Jenson won a silver medal at the 1978 Tchaikovsky competition. The French composer’s debt to many previous masters, including his teacher, Gounod, can be heard in this score, but the craftsmanship and thematic inspiration make it a splendid achievement for the future composer of “Carmen.”

Smirnoff captured the music’s lilt and poetry, drawing vibrant playing from the orchestra, though the third movement was much too weighty. In the slow movement, Rebecca Schweigert molded the sinuous oboe solo with seamless elegance.