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
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
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),
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.