Vivid night of American music at Peabody

Most American composers speak through their music with the same directness and honesty that Americans are famed for employing verbally on a daily basis. An invigorating dose of this openness was provided in the Peabody Concert Orchestra's program Friday night at the conservatory.

From the opening volts of Christopher Rouse's Iscariot to the heated lyricism of Leonard Bernstein's On the Waterfront suite, the performance proved consistently involving, aided by the firm, clear guidance of conductor Hajime Teri Murai and a remarkably strong effort of the student musicians.

Another plus: the evening's featured faculty artist, clarinetist Anthony McGill, a principal player in the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra. He delivered Aaron Copland's Clarinet Concerto with a model combination of technical aplomb and refined musicality. He sculpted the long, dreamy lines of the

first movement in an exquisitely shaded tone; the jazzy finale had plenty of spark. (McGill, of course, earned unusual attention on Jan. 20 as one of the four instrumentalists appearing, and appearing to perform, a new John Williams work composed for the inauguration ceremony. On that frigid occasion, he and his colleagues relied on a recording they made of the piece, generating some not always flattering chatter afterward.) Murai was an attentive partner in the concerto, drawing mostly sensitive, tight playing from the ensemble.

The orchestra did not disguise its student status all the time, but there was a great deal of accomplished playing in the full-force works, especially Iscariot, Rouse's reflection on the subject of Judas. This isn't a literal tone poem, but the dark tonality and fierce percussive attacks easily conjure up the issue of betrayal, while the prospect of forgiveness is suggested by gentle, chorale-like passages in the strings. This is deep, compelling material, and it was delivered with considerable power.

Samuel Barber's Music for a Scene from Shelley, a taut, eventful, slightly overwrought item that must have inspired Bernard Herrmann, enjoyed an intense reading. Bernstein's film score to On the Waterfront is one of his most impressive works, and the suite he fashioned from it presents quite a gripping emotional journey that Murai artfully molded. There was a lot of impressive playing here by the orchestra (the horn soloist was particularly fine), playing that reflected well on Peabody's role in the honing of young talent.


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