Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Recorded February 2006 in Ciudad Universitaria, Aula Magna, Caracas
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: October 2007
CD No: DG 477 6545
Duration: 69 minutes
To say that Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela have taken the world by storm is something of an understatement; furthermore Dudamel is ticking-off the world’s great orchestras in guest engagements and is already announced as the next Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic (succeeding Esa-Pekka Salonen).
Recording for Deutsche Grammophon, Dudamel and his hugely-talented Youth Orchestra have already issued the Fifth and Seventh symphonies of Beethoven and now tackle another Fifth, Mahler’s, a symphony that is being played to death at the moment.
This work’s ubiquitous appearances aside, there is a freshness to this performance that rejuvenates the listener and serves continued notice as to what an outstanding ensemble the Simón Bolívar Orchestra is. The opening trumpet solo commands attention in its arresting call and the player’s poise of execution, the first full-orchestra outburst impresses in its space and dynamism, and the strings of the funeral procession are suitably veiled. Dudamel’s sense of line is persuasive, so too his ability to ruffle the surface (sometimes with detail rarely brought out) and also to keep his view firmly gazed on nodal points and structural and emotional climaxes – and he has a fine ear for colour, blend and good balance, too, the Simón Bolívar players very responsive to the conductor.
The doom-laden portents and its breaking-point middle-section are well-conveyed, the second movement’s stormy opening given at speed and with crack virtuosity, the refrains rendered with utmost tenderness while being part of the bigger picture; the setting up of extremes (one increase of speed is electrifying and brought a visual reminder of Leonard Bernstein choreographing a whiplash acceleration) is well-managed to sustain the movement as a whole so that when the triumphant chorale emerges it does so as a shaft of light but without crass bombast – after all, the symphony has a long way still to go and this music has to make more (and greater) impression later.
The third movement dances with vivacity and a certain spikiness; it’s not unlike Boulez’s approach, Mahler given a Stravinsky-like facelift, although it is Claudio Abbado who has most-influenced Dudamel’s interpretation; a long period of study between the two men, and Abbado had previously conducted the Bolívar musicians in this work. Yet, Dudamel is his own man and his fluctuations of pace and character in this pivotal middle movement are very convincing, disparate rather than separate and part of a well-calculated ground-plan.
The Adagietto, while slow, doesn’t become static or treacly and leads to a well-timed climax, and the finale is incisive and vital, youthful exuberance (but not immaturity) to the fore, maybe too much at times – it all seems a rather too ‘easy’, but the conquest signalled earlier can now arrive with full vindication yet Dudamel is careful not to elongate it and if the very final bars spurt rather there is also genuine joy at the homecoming to complete an animated and considered performance that can only enhance the reputation of conductor and orchestra as well as restoring the listener’s faith in (now) such over-exposed music.
The recording is excellent in spaciousness and clarity. In the booklet note, Dudamel says that the “centre” of the music must be found. He finds it in Mahler 5.