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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



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Peter Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64 (1888) [48:04]
Francesca da Rimini - Orchestral Fantasy Op. 32 (1877) [25:33]   
Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel
rec. live. January 2008, Sala Simón Bolívar, Centro di Acción Social por la Musica, Caracas.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8022 GH [73:37] 
Experience Classicsonline

 

How we warm to performances that are possessed. Dudamel - still comparatively new on the international stage - has had a run of releases praised for their fervour - their rejection of the routine. They include Fiesta (00289 477 7457), Beethoven 5 and 7 (00289 477 6228) and Mahler 5 (00289 477 6545).

This Tchaikovsky disc is the first Dudamel I have heard. I missed his BBC Proms broadcast. Thank heavens that Dudamel and DG remain loyal to the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela. I wonder if some of the tang and zest of this music-making would be compromised if and when he moves to more celebrated 'great' orchestras. We have seen it happen before. Meantime Venezuela’s attitude to the arts and young people is to be envied and these DG recordings are the evidence and the praise. That this international label back a youth orchestra is praise indeed and they rise to - and above - the challenge.

What of Dudamel’s Tchaikovsky 5? It's ardent and fresh in this live recording made in the orchestra's home in  Caracas. Does it supplant my reference version: Monteux and the LSO on Vanguard recorded live in Vienna in 1960? No. While it is a fine and pulse-quickening reading with it is not as taut or as unremittingly intriguing as Monteux. The orchestra sounds like a big beast but one that is nimble. The brass are not merely gutsy but also have stern impact as well as bite and bray as at 5:32 in the finale. Solo details such as the etched musing solo bassoon in the first movement impress time after time. The mournful cantabile in the exposed horn solo in the Andante Cantabile is indelibly abiding in its effect. There is lilt from the start in the Waltz and the finale is doggedly determined. Not to pass unmentioned is the passion during the climactic passages. Dudamel drives like the furies in the unleashed gale of the finale at 3:23 onwards. I wonder whether the Mravinsky/Leningrad’s string-band tornado for their 1960 stereo recording (also DG) was in Dudamel's mind. The recording boasts wonderful stereo separation from the DG team: try the finale at 1:02 for the antiphonal pizzicato.

This is a very fine Tchaikovsky 5 and largely uncompromised by audience noise. Even so I would rather have had the applause included. All we get is the lively resonance of the hall decay. However I know that preferences vary on this point.

Francesca responds well to possessed performances. I am fortunate indeed to have a broadcast tape of a superb RFH concert from 1980 where the conductor was the oft-disdained Yuri Ahronovitch; for me that has yet to be bettered. Commercial sessions by Stokowski (Vanguard), Mravinsky (BMG), Golovanov (Boheme) and Rozhdestvensky/Leningrad (DG LP – why never reissued) remain strong contenders. Dudamel’s reading is heated enough but does it excel Stokowski - the version most seasoned enthusiasts will know. I think not, though it is certainly makes for a fine whirlwind with gentle poetry in the central pensive episodes. For me however that final grain of shuddering horror is missed by a hair’s breadth. Not that this prevents a well-merited burst of whooping applause from the audience.

Is this great Tchaikovsky? Not quite. It's very fine indeed and is well towards the front of the vanguard. I urge you to hear it. That said, Monteux and Stokowski still have the edge if you can live with forty year old analogue.
 
Rob Barnett
 


 


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