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Review: Teen violinist handles Paganini with aplomb

Review: Teen violinist handles Paganini with aplomb

Violinist Leo Brown got a taste of stardom Sunday afternoon at the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra co

Violinist Leo Brown got a taste of stardom Sunday afternoon at the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra concert at Proctors.

Brown, 18, won the 2007 Stefan Competition and got to play Paganini’s Concerto No. 2 in B minor with the orchestra — his first full-fledged concerto with an orchestra. Last year with the Empire State Youth Orchestra, Brown, as the 2007 Lois Lyman Concerto Competition winner, got his solo feet wet with a Sarasate showpiece. Not the same thing. The Paganini came with three very long movements, a cadenza, and long extended passages with such things as double stops, harmonics and glissandos.

Brown stayed cool through it all and kept his eyes from straying too much toward the very large but supportive crowd. It probably helped that he’d memorized the concerto because it forced him to concentrate.

He got a sweet tone, phrased nicely and wasn’t hesitant to make a few statements. Although conductor Charles Schneider slowed the tempo a bit to allow Brown to get all the double stops in, Brown played them in tune. There were several quick technical passages, especially in the final movement, and Brown played all the notes. Every once in a while, a brilliantly played phrase or a silvery trill would peek out.

The orchestra wasn’t so sure of its pitches but no one could quibble with the degree of support it gave to Brown.

The Paganini was the third piece on the program. It opened with Rossini’s Overture to “La Gazza Ladra” that Schneider initially took with a terrific bright and taut tempo. He slowed it down for the second section in which all the winds expertly played their exposed solos — bravos to the piccolo player. The orchestra drove to the finish with good energy.

For interest, up to 15 brass players performed a few Gabrielli Canzonas either lined up across the stage or from both side balconies. They’re wonderfully festive pieces that would have benefited with more rehearsal time.

After intermission, the orchestra reinvented itself to perform Respighi’s marvelously colorful “Pini di Roma” with unbelievable excellence. Everything shimmered. The work is so evocatively descriptive that it can stir the senses and imagination with power and wonder. Schneider made the most of it by putting more brass in the balconies (for power) and taking his time to allow the music to ebb and flow.

The first movement was splashy and vivacious; the second was deep and secretive; the excellent solo clarinet set the peaceful tone of the third with its recorded bird calls; and the brass were the Roman legions — ominous in the distance and then aggressive and explosive.

The piece ended with Kathy Lowery joyously pounding out the beat on the orchestra’s new timpani.

It was a great concert.

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