Vienna Philharmonic in New York – 3 [Boléro/Gustavo Dudamel]

The Thieving Magpie – Overture
Tres versiones sinfónicas
Divertimento for Orchestra
Pavane pour une infante défunte

Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Gustavo Dudamel

Reviewed by: Gene Gaudette

Reviewed: 2 October, 2010
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Gustavo Dudamel. Photograph: Mathew ImagingGustavo Dudamel led the Vienna Philharmonic in the first of his two concerts Carnegie Hall. Rossini’s ‘Overture’ to “The Thieving Magpie” opened with the sound of two differently tuned snare drums — an unexpected and effective touch — and the introductory march was crisp and characterful. The tempo of the main section was faster than usual but not frenetic, the VPO sacrificing nothing in clarity and crisply detailed articulation, conveying the music with charm and merriment.

Spanish-born Julián Orbón (1925-91), who lived variously in Cuba, Mexico and the United States, drew on the ancient and modern for his Tres versiones sinfónicas, the movements entitled ‘Pavana: Luis Milan’, ‘Organum: Perotin’, and ‘Xylophone: Conga’ and suffused with Latin-American rhythms and idioms. The influence of Aaron Copland, with whom Orbón studied at Tanglewood, can be heard, but much of the opening ‘Pavana’ is also reminiscent of Virgil Thomson’s orchestral music. The slow middle ‘Organum’ is particularly impressive, conveying scenes at once austere and serene, and the finale, driven by eight percussionists, brought the concert’s first half to a thrilling end. Dudamel conjured unusually idiomatic sounds from the orchestra and particularly evocative melodies from the Philharmonic strings.

Leonard Bernstein enjoyed a long and fruitful collaboration with the Vienna Philharmonic, particularly during his final decade. Divertimento for Orchestra (1980) was written for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s centenary; cast in eight brief, contrasting movements, combining the 20th-century American classical sound with elements of blues, jazz, theater music and a huge dollop of musical humor in the manner of Carl Stalling (1891-1972), best known for his music for “Looney Tunes”. The Philharmonic – venerable institution of the great Austro-Germanic tradition – was completely convincing and idiomatic. A little over two decades ago, Bernstein got the Vienna Philharmonic to swing pretty convincingly when he conducted his Prelude, Fugue and Riffs in Carnegie Hall, but here Dudamel outdid even Lenny.

Dudamel’s view of Ravel’s Pavane is decidedly romantic, heart-on-sleeve and backward-looking; I prefer a leaner, modernist sound to this work, but Dudamel managed to make it poignant and haunting without the least taint of treacle. The approach suits the orchestra particularly well – not only the strings, but the chamber-music, cantabile quality of the winds. Dudamel began Boléro at an almost sub-pianissimo and a moderate tempo, and aside from some slightly ragged playing from the double reeds in the first few minutes, the performance was marvelously delivered, with particularly flawless intonation. The tenor saxophone, soprano saxophone, and trombone – all ‘jazz age’ instruments – played their iterations of the tune with just a touch of improvisatory rhythmic and dynamic freedom. The Vienna Philharmonic doesn’t generate the sheer decibels of the New York Philharmonic; in the work’s climax that’s not such a bad thing – there was not the least hint of stridency, and the final staccato notes have seldom been delivered with such clarity.

The publicity surrounding Dudamel often depicts him as a hyperkinetic, demonstrative artist, and this program suggests that such marketing – which seems to work for concert venues and Dudamel’s record label – may be misleading in that it only tells part of the story. Dudamel is capable of achieving not only boldly expressive orchestral playing but a formidably high standard of musical quality.

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