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Albany Symphony Orchestra makes it all look so easy

11.15.10
Times Union

By Joseph Dalton

ALBANY -- Along with an obvious love for the music, a feeling of offhanded skill was the dominate feature of the Albany Symphony Orchestra's Saturday evening program at the Palace Theater.

Of course, there's little that's actually spontaneous when eighty or so musicians perform for almost two hours. It was years of practice that gave soloist Giora Schmidt his exacting ease with the demands of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto. And the easy communication between guest conductor Tito Munoz and the orchestra in Elgar's "Enigma" Variations was surely the result of some highly focused rehearsals.

It's not news that professionals practice but it's a pleasure when the labor doesn't show and the music itself comes to the forefront.

The flashiest material in the Tchaikovsky comes in the first movement and Schmidt had it all well in hand. During the cadenza, he landed pitch-perfect on those tiny high notes. Yet it was the folk-like themes of the Andante and the playful dances of the finale that were most enjoyable. Schmidt's warmth showed up during his encore, Kriesler's "Recitative and Scherzo," which is just as technically tricky as the Tchaikovsky and in only a few minutes time.

Munoz, who is assistant conductor of the Cleveland Orchestra, led the Tchaikovsky and Elgar both from memory. This probably freed him up in more than a few ways, and might explain why about half his cues to the players weren't with his hands but rather were quick and simple glances and nods. There were distinct dynamic gradations in the concerto and the many vivid scenes in the "Enigma" variations were always clear and evocative. Especially captivating was the 10th variation, a light play between the lilting woodwinds and the skittering strings.

The program opened with "leaping greenly spirits," by composer David Shober. Though it had several passages of volume and heft, it was mostly a romp of light nimble orchestration that started with whisper-quiet percussion. There seemed to have been solos for just about every principal player and all of them, even in the low woodwinds and brass, were impish and charming.