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CityMusic Cleveland and guests enchant with wonders by Part and Nielsen (review)
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, March 16, 2015

SHAKER HEIGHTS, Ohio - Every program should be this strong. No disrespect to CityMusic Cleveland or its generally good taste in musical design, but its latest offering was especially effective.

Between the music itself, a trio of works by Baltic and Scandinavian masters, and the performances Sunday by the orchestra under guest conductor Joaquin Valdepenas, there literally was something for everyone to love.

No one, certainly, avoided falling for violinist Adele Anthony or her performance of the Nielsen Violin Concerto. The perfect melding of music and interpreter, her reading Sunday at Christ Episcopal Church - the last of four appearances around the region - was, to quote a pop tune, simply irresistible.

Beyond assurance, Anthony evinced that much rarer sense of grasping the score entirely, of understanding where every note fits in the larger picture. On top of that she boasted staggering technical ability and a warm tone that filled the space easily and fully.

Nielsen's score, a dramatic collection of soaring melodies, harmonic twists and demanding virtuoso feats, is fetching enough. With Anthony as its champion, however, it held listeners spellbound.

That the audience stood and clapped after the first movement was understandable; so rich was Anthony's performance, it seemed complete there. But there was much more in store, including a memorable cadenza with simultaneous bowing and plucking and tons of lively, alert work by the ensemble.

Still, the program wouldn't have been half as powerful as it was had it not been for the first half: Arvo Part's "Los Angeles" Symphony No. 4. Rarely heard here, and profoundly stirring as a gesture on behalf of the unjustly imprisoned, the music of Part made for a captivating opener.

Like much of Part's music, the fourth channels the divine through spare textures and hypnotic repetition. Where others incite drama through contrasting extremes, Part creates fire with the musical equivalent of stick-rubbing, through the gradual raising of tension and temperature. The surface is serene, but one level down, there's heat.

All of this registered keenly under Valdepenas. Principal clarinet of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the conductor led CityMusic in Part the way he'd play his own instrument, with great nuance and expression. Evocative percussion and an eloquent solo by concertmaster Miho Hashizume (a member of the Cleveland Orchestra) only deepened the enchantment.

Originally conceived as the concert opener, Grieg's brief "Peer Gynt" Suite No. 1 served instead, through a change in order, as the finale.

What a payoff it was. With Valdepenas at the helm, the suite's famous strains sounded as magical and fresh as if they'd just been penned. Discerning listeners could only have been pleased by the fastidious, sparkling orchestra, and Grieg newbies surely converted to fans. In music, there is no higher goal.