Peabody shows promise with new conductor

September 30, 1991|By Ernest F. Imhoff | Ernest F. Imhoff,Evening Sun Staff

In recent years, the conductor's baton of the Peabody Symphony Orchestra looked more like a runner's baton going from one temporary conductor to another. It showed.

Saturday night, Peabody's new permanent leader from the University of Cincinnati Conservatory, Hajime Teri Murai, gave Baltimore a new rejuvenated orchestra in his debut here. Its promise of fine things with stability needed only the two hours of the delightful concert to show the future is here already with a major upgrading.

Small, wiry and super-active on the podium, Murai delighted in extracting a variety of moods from the 80 players, opening with the frothy "Oberon Overture" of Weber and closing with a dynamic, multi-shaded Symphony No. 2 by Sibelius. Clearly, while improvements will be made, the orchestra is already Murai's. Members seemed to love playing for him.

Yet so rich was the sold-out evening at Friedberg Concert Hall that baritone Gordon Hawkins, also making his Baltimore debut, was the emotional soul of the program. Good singers do that, especially when helped by sensitive orchestras.

A large man with dramatic presence but without melodrama, the solid Hawkins has a clean voice that spun a magic of clear notes, smooth transitions and a panorama of feelings. He projected pure sincerity in Wagner's "Holder Abendstern" and Verdi's "Eri Tu" and rollicking fun in "I bought me a duck."

The beauty of all the delicately balanced elements was caught by Murai, orchestra, Hawkins and audience in four "Songs of a Wayfarer" by Mahler. The Maryland-raised opera singer sang his sad lieder sadly, the hushed strings ached with him and the audience stillness sealed the moment's poignancy. May Murai's baton stay put and part-time Peabody teacher Hawkins sing here more often.

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