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Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Symphony no. 5 in e minor, opus 64 – Francesca da Rimini, opus 32
Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Gustavo Dudamel (Conductor)
Live Recording: Sala Simón Bolivar, Caracas (January 2008) – 73’45
Deutsche Grammophon B0012763-02 – Booklet in English

Young Maestro Gustavo Dudamel and his Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela performed at the Concert Hall of the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC this past weekend. Their renditions of Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé and Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring “knocked my socks off” as they say! The orchestra, which numbered 180, could barely fit the stage. The youthful exuberance, energy, and panache with which they played everything were nothing short of exhilarating. There was so much screaming and cheering from the noticeably young audience that the event resembled a “cult fest”, “love in”, or “rock concert” more than a classical symphonic concert.

This new CD of two Tchaikovsky favorites splendidly captures all of these astonishing dynamics. First of all, the sonics of the orchestra are very impressive. One can hardly believe it is an orchestra comprised of players age 26 and under. I was reminded of Leopold Stokowski’s youth orchestra, The American Symphony, which was a resident orchestra of New York’s Carnegie Hall in the 1960’s and ‘70’s and which also exuded lush sonorities.

Gustavo Dudamel will take over next season as music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. The Bolivar Orchestra however is where he honed his craft and the ease and rapport he has with this symphony is immediately evident. He is an ideal interpreter of Tchaikovsky and he readily falls in line with the great Tchaikovsky tradition found in the legacies of such conductors as Pierre Monteux, Sir Thomas Beecham, Leopold Stokowski, and Leonard Bernstein.

The Symphony no. 5 is given a tender and noble rendition. One might expect it to be “over the top”, but it is not. There are plenty of hair-raisingly fast tempi as in the March Finale but it is always balanced and most musical. The program notes do not say who plays the French horn solo in the second movement, but it is beautifully rendered. In fact, all of the brass and woodwinds play with distinction. It is the lushness of the strings, however, that bowls you over. There are so many of them. The booklet lists 96 string players. That would make the Vienna Philharmonic jealous!

The tone poem Francesca da Rimini, which concludes the CD is given a rousing performance. The winds of Hell that eternally buffet Francesca and her lover Paolo, really do sound like Hell…in the best sense of the word. It is certainly one of Tchaikovsky’s most colorful and dramatic works. Dudamel plays it for all it is worth.

This is just not another Tchaikovsky recording. This one will really catch your ear!

Micaele Sparacino




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