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CityMusic Cleveland welcomes distinguished guests to open eighth season
Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer, October 12, 2011

CityMusic Cleveland has been an irresistible force since 2004, when it began presenting free concerts in area churches. The price of admission is only part of the chamber orchestra’s appeal. Equally crucial is the high level of the music-making.

To open its eighth season this week, CityMusic again is reaching for the stars, almost literally, by welcoming two distinguished guest artists, American conductor Ryan McAdams and German cellist Jan Vogler, who have much to say about the works on the program.

Two of the pieces are adored chestnuts, Beethoven’s “Leonore” Overture No. 3 and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto, while the third is an early tonal work by a Romanian composer better known for modernist tendencies, Gyorgy Ligeti.

Somehow, Ligeti’s Concerto Romanesc was considered way out at its premiere in 1951. There are a few pungent harmonies and effects in this four-movement piece, but most of the score is inspired by Romanian folk music, with all of the full of rustic charm and lyrical grace attached to the tradition. The third movement contains a conversation between distant horns, which play minus valves, as if they’re shepherds echoing one another.

At the first concert of the week Wednesday at Fairmount Presbyterian Church in Cleveland Heights, McAdams shaped the Ligeti with fine attention to detail and texture. The orchestra sounded in fine fettle, both in ensemble and solo passages. Concertmaster Sarah McElravy handled the dashing fiddle with aplomb, the winds sparkled and the orchestra kicked up its heels to exuberant effect in the finale.

McAdams began with the Beethoven overture, giving the opening pages ample breadth before taking the musicians through an explosive and invigorating journey. The piece tests an orchestra’s control and dexterity, and CityMusic savored the challenges. Heidi Ruby Kushious’ golden flute, Laura Koepke’s fleet bassoon and Mark Maliniak’s glistening offstage trumpet calls were among the highlights.

The evening rose to another level altogether when Vogler arrived to play the greatest cello concerto of them all. Dvorak composed his masterpiece - a ravishing blend of New World and Old World elements – while in residence in the United States in the mid-1890s.

Vogler immersed himself in the work’s impassioned narratives, luxuriating in the luscious thematic material and moments of contemplative beauty. When Dvorak calls for forceful declamation and nimble attack, the cellist complied with playing of articulate brilliance. In the slow movement, he gave heightened definition to poetic nuances.

The orchestra is as vital in this score as the soloist, and CityMusic – if somewhat short of strings – exuded hearty spirit and finesse, with special contributions from winds and horns.

Much of the performance’s strength emanated from McAdams, who was alert to Vogler’s every move and maintained close contact with the orchestra. Thanks to all the musicians who crammed themselves into the playing area at Fairmount Presbyterian, Dvorak’s generosity shone through.