Symphony No.5 in E minor, Op.64
Francesca da Rimini – Symphonic fantasia after Dante, Op.32
Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Recorded January 2008 in Sala Simón Bolívar, Centro de Acción Social por la Música, Caracas
Reviewed by: Christian Hoskins
Reviewed: June 2009
CD No: DG 477 8022
Duration: 74 minutes
The booklet lists an outsize orchestra, including 48 violinists, 12 double bassists and 3 tuba-players. It’s not clear whether all of these musicians are employed in the performance, but the sound is weighty, and given Dudamel’s surprisingly restrained approach to dynamics (the Andante cantabile’s climactic ffff is underplayed), the movement has a solemnity which is more suited to Bruckner than to Tchaikovsky.
In the finale, by contrast, Dudamel seems determined to outpace the generally swift readings by Russian conductors such as Mravinsky and Russian-trained ones like Mariss Jansons (from Latvia). The Allegro vivace at bar 58 (3’16”) races away at a tempo approaching minim = 150 compared to the score’s 120. The fact that Dudamel’s large orchestra can articulate cleanly at such a tempo is impressive, but the result sounds frenetic rather than creating excitement from a genuine engagement with the music.
The third movement ‘Waltz’ comes off the best, although the heavy Wagnerian plodding of the pizzicatos (marked piano) is a distraction, and the lack of divided violins means that Tchaikovsky’s antiphonal effects are lost.
Tchaikovsky composed Francesca da Rimini during a visit to Bayreuth, shortly before commencing work on the Fourth Symphony. Its passionate yearning is perhaps most strikingly heard in the recording that Stokowski made with the (contractually re-named) New York Stadium Symphony Orchestra in 1958. Dudamel’s performance is again notable for a hefty orchestral sound, but his pacing is often deliberate and the performance fails to generate the necessary tension.
The recording of the symphony dissolves into silence, but the end of Francesca da Rimini finds the audience erupting into cheers and whistles before the last note has died away. No doubt the atmosphere in the auditorium was supercharged, but the performances on this issue do not have any special claim for collectors among the available competition.