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Igor STRAVINSKY (1882-1971)
The Rite of Spring (1911-1913) [34:00]
Silvestre REVUELTAS (1899-1940)
La noche de los mayas (1939) [29:56]
Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel
rec. February 2010, Sala Simón Bolívar, Centro de Acción Social por la Música, Caracas, Venezuela
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8775 [63:56]

Experience Classicsonline


 
As youth orchestras go the Bolívar band is something special. And as rehearsal tapes demonstrate, these young players respond very well to the enthusiastic direction of maestro Dudamel. That said, as the hype begins to fade one might well ask where this partnership goes from here. Their vibrant performance of South American music in Fiesta deserved the accolades it received, and their bold, brassy performance of the Mussorgsky/Ravel Pictures review – is certainly exciting. However, their intermittently successful Mahler Fifth strikes me as a serious misjudgement, whether by Dudamel or DG’s A&R department, and I did wonder whether this Rite would fall into the same category.
 
On paper at least the rhythmic challenges and volatility of Stravinsky’s ballet makes it a natural choice for these musicians, but it’s very unforgiving of lapses in ensemble or direction. And while I wouldn’t want to confine the youngsters to a constant diet of Central and South American music, one senses they are much more at ease with the musical idiom of La noche de los mayas by Revueltas. As for Dudamel, he’s had mixed reviews since taking over the Los Angeles Philharmonic; in his defence, though, he’s still relatively young and, despite the persistent nay-sayers, I believe he has great podium potential.
 
In a very competitive field Jaap van Zweden’s Ritereview – demonstrates that even a more cultured, rather suave reading of this score doesn’t diminish its power to engage and galvanise. True, the savage abandon of Davis – my introduction to this work – Bernstein, Muti, Abbado, Mackerras, Gergiev and others is hard to resist, and I expected the Venezuelans to follow suit. However, the introduction to Part I is a little lacking in mystery, the sound full but somewhat recessed. Similarly, the insistent rhythms of ‘Augurs of Spring’ aren’t as vehement as some, the strings lacking in bite. Bass-drum junkies won’t be disappointed, though.
 
On first acquaintance I felt Dudamel’s Rite was a trifle bland, wanting in rhythmic drive and overall articulation; listening again to the ‘Game of Abduction’ I began to wonder whether I’d been too harsh first time around. It’s certainly pretty febrile, the slow drag of ‘Spring Rounds’ nicely done, if a little too slow at times. The timps and cymbals are spectacular though – full marks to the engineers – as is the brass in ‘Games of the Rival Tribes’. One senses, though, that this is broad-brush Stravinsky, subtle colours lost in the process, but no-one can deny the bass-drum-fuelled energy of ‘Procession of the Sage’. Anyone who has heard the SBYO perform Ginastera’s ballet Estancia will recognise the sheer exuberance on display here.
 
The final segment of Part I, the orgiastic ‘Dance of the Earth’, is very impressive indeed, Dudamel whipping his players into a veritable frenzy without sacrificing too much in terms of orchestral discipline. True, he does make a dash for the big, thumping climaxes, but when the results are this visceral – and the players’ enjoyment so palpable – it hardly seems to matter. Wow, indeed. And despite a slightly ragged start to the Introduction (Largo) to Part II, the primal gloom of this music is well captured by players and engineers alike; that said, I find Dudamel’s tempi a little sluggish at this point. Indeed, one could argue that this performance works best in its more spectacular moments, less well in the quiet ones where Stravinsky’s transparent scoring requires rather more finesse than the Venezuelans can quite manage.
 
Caveats aside, Dudamel certainly creates plenty of tension in the ‘Mystic Circles of the Young’, so when the awesome bass-drum returns there’s a genuine and powerful rush of release. ‘Glorification of the Chosen One’ and ‘Evocation of the Ancestors’ seldom fail to thrill, although the tension ebbs rather too quickly in ‘Ritual Action of the Ancestors’. That said, once we get back to the elemental rhythms all is well again. The final ‘Sacrificial Dance’ is not bad, although it does seem a little incoherent at times. Moreover, the final bars aren’t as cathartic as they should be.
 
The Mexican composer Silvestre Revueltas’s Sensemayá – which Dudamel describes as a ‘Latin-American Rite of Spring’ – gets Fiesta off to a cracking start. His score for the 1939 film La noche de los mayas (‘Night of the Maya’) makes for a substantial and interesting filler here. Regrettably, DG’s liner-notes are devoted to an interview with Dudamel, so anyone seeking more information about this unfamiliar piece will have to resort to Messrs Google and Bing. The film seems to have sunk into obscurity, the music reworked into a suite by the Mexican conductor José Ives Limantour; the resulting work was premiered in January 1961.
 
It’s meat and drink to these young players, who capture Latin rhythms to perfection, the band augmented by bongos, Indian drum, tom-tom, tumbadora (Cuban drum of African origin), caracol (conch shell), guiro (a hollowed out gourd), tam-tam and tumkul (woodblocks). The brooding first movement, La noche de los mayas – a panoramic soundscape, if you will – is wonderfully sonorous, the thud of bass drum and aura of cymbals adding grandeur to the view. There’s some lovely, lyrical music here as well, all evoking a distant but splendid past. And it’s not as episodic as such suites can be, Noche de jaranas (‘Night of Revelry’) despatched with the kind of brio Bernstein brought to his famous CBS recording of El Salón México. The conch shell adds its distinctive timbre to the mix.
 
Noche de Yucatán (‘Yucatán Night’) is more restrained, but no less atmospheric, the Venezuelans playing with rapt intensity throughout. It’s music of surpassing strangeness and proof, if it were needed, that this band can sustain long, lyrical phrases with ease. But it’s in Noche de encantamiento (‘Night of Enchantment’) that Revueltas really lets rip. From a giddy opening crescendo the music modulates to the kind of pulsing beat these players do so well. As always with these youngsters, there’s a real sense of enjoyment and enthusiasm in their music-making, and the final section – marked Con violencia – will certainly annoy the neighbours and dislodge a few tiles. A fiery coda to a high-octane concert, and well deserving of the enthusiastic applause that follows.
 
Despite minor quibbles about the Stravinsky, this disc has renewed my affection and admiration for this band. DG have done them proud with a recording of spectacular range. As for the booklet, information about Revueltas would have been welcome, but really I’m just nit-picking now.
 
Not a life-changing Rite, but the Revueltas is a terrific filler. Great fun.
 
Dan Morgan
 
 


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