Peabody Symphony's respectable account of the Mahler Ninth
Even Gustav Mahler, who famously predicted his time would come, might be surprised that student orchestras would take up his symphonies without a second thought. In his day, the composer often faced dubious, even rebellious musicians -- not to mention audiences and critics.
Mahler's valedictory Ninth Symphony, which suggests a frantic grasping onto the present life with one hand and a calm reaching out to the next life with the other, may not seem as likely a candidate for young players as, say, his more straightforward First. But Hajime Teri Murai, the dedicated director of orchestral activities at the Peabody Conservatory, doesn't consider anything off-limits, especially Mahler, who is represented annually in the Peabody Symphony Orchestra's programming.
Last night, the Ninth was addressed (before what should have been a larger audience), and the results proved quite respectable, especially after the halfway point. Earlier on, the woodwinds and brass encountered rough patches, and the strings were not entirely focused, but the musicians gradually settled more securely into the groove, technically and expressively. My guess is that a second performance would be really smokin', but one-night stands are the rule at Peabody (musically speaking, I hasten to add). ...
Most impressive was the way the ensemble tore into the third movement, articulating with considerable cohesiveness, tonal brightness and, in the mad dash of the coda, fearless speed. The ensuing finale, too, included a lot of impressive work, notably from the strings, which summoned a dark, vibrant sound. Of the various solo contributions during the performance, those by concertmaster Netanel Draiblate proved particularly confident and eloquent.
Ultimately, I wasn't terribly moved by Murai's approach to the score. He got all the main points across, to be sure, and many of the subtler ones; he shaped each movement thoughtfully, if rather heavy-handedly at times. What I missed was a sense of depth, of peering into the uncertain world beneath the score. The interpretation could have used a little more breadth in the profound outer movements, more nuance in the mercurial inner ones.
Still, enough the Ninth's soulful power certainly emerged, and it felt good to experience such big music and such big ideas in Peabody's relatively intimate Friedberg Hall.