Peabody Symphony's 'Voyager' is a bumpy journey

February 19, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Jean Eichelberger Ivey's "Voyager" takes a listener on a boring, somewhat bumpy ride.

In a program note, the composer promisingly describes this piece for cello and orchestra as taking "its name from those unmanned satellites which have journeyed to the outermost reaches of our solar system . . ."

But hearing the piece last night -- its premiere by cellist Mihaly Virizlay, conductor David Zinman and the Peabody Symphony Orchestra in Friedberg Hall -- made one think of the unendurable slides friends bring back from trips.

Ivey's annotation instructs us to hear the cello as the voyager and the orchestra as the celestial regions through which it travels. It is perhaps for that reason that the cello part -- which was beautifully executed by Virizlay -- is rhapsodic and romantic and that the orchestral writing features microtonal slitherings from the strings and unworldly -- often quite beautiful effects -- in the percussion. But the piece proceeded in fits and starts that left one wondering about its point of view.

There were far too many moments in which the orchestra entered into -- only to depart from -- the cello's essentially Romantic universe. Ivey is a good composer, but "Voyager" should have stayed home.

The concert, however, featured the best playing this listener has ever heard from the Peabody Symphony. The students played George Walker's "Lyric for Strings" with polish and fine intonation and they lifted the roof in a blazing performance of Prokofiev's Symphony No. 5.

Part of the reason they played so well was the presence of Zinman, the music director of the Baltimore Symphony. It was the conductor's first appearance with this orchestra, and one hopes he can be induced to return soon.

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