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Gifted brother-sister duo Gil and Orli Shaham offers enchanting evening of classical music

Gil Shaham
Cleveland Plain Dealer

Music often sounds best when musicians appear to be enjoying themselves. Something about enthusiasm mixed with seriousness adds up to a more satisfying listening experience. One can only assume that violinist Gil Shaham and pianist Orli Shaham had a ball in the backyard when they were growing up. Their infectious sense of give and take hasn't waned. Onstage, the gifted brother and sister play off one another as if they are engaged in the most enchanting artistic games.

The Shahams returned to the Cleveland Chamber Music Society's series Tuesday at Fairmount Temple Auditorium in Beachwood for a program that was involving from first note to last. The violinist, familiar from solo appearances with the Cleveland Orchestra, was in characteristic polished, warm and virtuosic form. Ditto his sister, a pianist whose clarity and elastic phrasing complements her brother's musical personality.

An air of equality pervaded Tuesday's concert. Neither Shaham dominated. They deferred to one another when necessary and made sure that shared material sounded crucial.

Their program moved chronologically from the late 18th century to the mid-20th century, starting with Mozart's Sonata in D major, K. 306. The piano is as crucial in the musical conversation as the violin, with a keyboard cadenza in the finale that leads to one of Mozart's teasing, never-ending endings. The Shahams gave the piece an expressive and charming performance, with effortless interplay to keep the score in compelling motion.

Two movements from Faure's "Pelleas et Melisande" suite, including the famous Siciliana, were opportunites for the violinist to play at a hush and the duo to revel in silken sonorities.

More impressionistic pictures arrived in Szymanowski's "Mythes," Op. 30, three movements in which the Polish composer's coloristic suavity, poetic vibrancy and harmonic imagination are at a peak. The Shahams played the collection as an outpouring of multi-hued events, from delicate to dramatic.

Bartok is clearly the composer of the week in Cleveland. His one-act opera, "Bluebeard's Castle," is on the Cleveland Orchestra's program tonight and Saturday. The Shahams immersed themselves in Bartok's Rhapsody No. 2, an explosion of gypsy music rooted in the Hungarian folk traditions. The violinist dug into his strings, using his remarkable bow arm to articulate effect. The pianist was a quicksilver collaborator.

Prokofiev's Sonata No. 2, Op. 94a, comes close to summarizing the Russian composer's style, its endearing, moonlit, caustic and exuberant activity hypnotizing the ear. Like all of the Shahams' playing Tuesday, their Prokofiev penetrated beneath surfaces to communicate the music's spirit and mind.

Their encore was Faure's "Claire de lune," shaped with elegant simplicity.