Peabody Symphony displays excellence


September 30, 1991|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Someone's doing something right at the Peabody Conservatory.

Saturday's inaugural concert of the Peabody Symphony, under its new music director Hajime Teri Murai, demonstrated that the conservatory has become a markedly better institution in the last few years. Open a closet door at Peabody nowadays and a talented string player is likely to fall out.

In Weber's "Oberon Overture," it was quickly apparent that one was listening to a student orchestra that often came close to professional excellence. Good as the violins and violas were, the basses and particularly the cellos were terrific. In a few years many of the members of that cello section should be sitting in some of the nation's major orchestras.

One of the reasons for the excellence of the orchestra was, of course, its new music director. Murai is a young, vibrant musician with a clear beat and a large vocabulary of gestures. He also knew he was working with students and that with such musicians -- however talented -- there are certain built-in limitations. Thus the Weber overture never lingered or hesitated -- it was a straight-ahead passionate performance. And in the final moments of the Sibelius Symphony No. 2 there was none of the holding back and slowing down that could have produced the extra measure of inexorability that would have made a fine performance even better. But this would have been hard on the brasses and Murai was wise enough not to ask his players for what they probably could not have delivered.

Since this concert celebrated the centennial of the great John Charles Thomas, it's nice to be able to report that another Maryland-born baritone seems headed for greatness. Gordon Hawkins -- the 32-year-old soloist in Mahler's "Songs of a Wayfarer," and Verdi and Wagner excerpts -- is clearly a potential national treasure. The Mahler was lovely and the passionate and brilliant Wagner and Verdi were even better.

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