La valse – poème chorégraphique
The Rite of Spring
21 Hungarian Dances, WoO1 – No.5 in G minor
Rodeo – Four Dance Episodes – IV: Hoe Down
Johann Strauss II
Estancia – Suite – IV: Malambo
West Side Story – Symphonic Dances: Mambo
Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela
Reviewed by: David M. Rice
Reviewed: 6 October, 2016
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
An audience nearly as enthusiastic as Gustavo Dudamel and his compatriots from Venezuela assembled to inaugurate Carnegie Hall’s 2016-17 season. The unconventional program opened with La valse followed by The Rite of Spring, both commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev, although his Ballets Russes company produced only the Stravinsky.
In the twenty-two years since the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra first visited New York it has evolved from a talented ensemble benefiting from Venezuela’s El Sistema training initiative into an adult orchestra that produced exceptional playing throughout this particular evening. In the post-World War One La valse (1920) details came through with clarity and the strings evoked the spirit of the Viennese waltz, all but painting images of swirling couples. Dudamel, at times swaying with the rhythm, chose tempos that sustained interest as the music progressively deteriorated and finally crashed; an apt metaphor for the end of Vienna’s most glorious era.
In The Rite (1913), from the opening bassoon solo to the final emphatic chord, Dudamel meticulously managed rhythmic complexities, meters change constantly, and kept the players well-synchronized. He favored loud volumes and fast tempos, which made the rendition feel oppressive, even if remaining a spectacular and exciting showpiece.
The last portion of the concert, introduced by Dudamel, consisted of five short pieces, all dances in 2/4, given with great brio and – again – at high decibel levels and thus little subtlety or variety. The Brahms Hungarian Dance (not one of the three that he orchestrated, so presumably this scoring was by Martin Schmeling) bubbled over with high spirits, if with considerable rubato and exaggeration in slower passages. Colors were brilliant in Aaron Copland’s rollicking ‘Hoe-Down’, interrupted by clapping at its false ending. Johann Strauss II’s Tritsch-Tratsch-Polka showed-off the agility of the strings at breakneck speed. Centenary composer Alberto Ginastera’s exuberant ‘Malambo’ (from his Estancia ballet) featured first-rate trumpet and xylophone contributions and the complex timpani part was astounding. In ‘Mambo’ from the Symphonic Dances arranged by Sid Ramin and Irwin Kostal from West Side Story the musicians shouted the title and many of them rose to boogie as they played.
Although what had been essayed amounted to a succession of encores, Dudamel offered another – Pedro Elías Gutiérrez’s ‘Alma Llanera’ (from Aires de Venezuela), a song originally composed for the eponymous zarzuela, in an arrangement that featured a continuous solo on maracas.