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CD of the Week: Duda and Tchaikovsky

Gustavo Dudamel is magnetic, brilliantly talented, a musical animal. The Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela is one of the happiest success stories around in classical music today. Both are also young, and developing, and growing. Hearing their new recording of the Tchaikovsky Fifth [Deutsche Grammophon] right after hearing Iván Fischer lead the same piece with the NSO last week provided an eloquent illustration of the age-old dialogue between youth and experience: raw talent and fiery energy on the one hand, expressive musical narration on the other.

Dudamel lives in the musical moment: Every second is mined to yield the most that it can, right away, right now. He’s instinctual rather than forward-looking. This creates some pretty thrilling music-making, particularly when you hear him live. It’s hard to resist the sheer visceral thrill that he and this particular orchestra can achieve at big moments, like the end of the symphony’s fourth movement, which breaks out like a whirlwind, or “Francesca da Rimini,” the companion piece on this CD.

So far, though, analytic skills don’t seem to be a big part of Dudamel’s musical makeup. And in a big piece with a lot of passion that needs a lot of shaping, like the Tchaikovsky, this shows. The sense that he’s reveling in the music is delightful, but leads to a sense of flabbiness in the way the music unfolds: It’s a sequence of isolated events loosely linked together, rather than a coherent journey. Fischer, with the NSO, displayed a clear idea of where he was going at all times: The transition in the first movement from the dreamy opening Andante to the almost military crispness of the Allegro con anima put one’s ears on alert that a drama was in the process of unfolding. On the Dudamel recording, the same transition seems almost an afterthought. Similarly, Fischer brought an elegant grace to the third movement, while Dudamel takes it at face value. It’s as if he were so close to the music that he can’t yet step back and see what it’s about.

It’s interesting to compare Dudamel with Mariss Jansons (whose complete set of the Tchaikovsky symphonies with the Oslo Philharmonic was recently remastered and re-released on Chandos). Jansons is also an instinctive musical animal, but to my ear he usually follows that instinct inside the spirit of the music, while Dudamel is still dazzling – or dazzled – with his execution of the mechanics. It’s an approach that in this recording keeps him on the music’s surface.

By Anne Midgette  |  April 23, 2009; 2:44 PM ET
Categories:  CD reviews  
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Comments

"So far, though, analytic skills don’t seem to be a big part of Dudamel’s musical makeup. And in a big piece with a lot of passion that needs a lot of shaping [...] The sense that he’s reveling in the music is delightful, but leads to a sense of flabbiness in the way the music unfolds: It’s a sequence of isolated events loosely linked together, rather than a coherent journey."

I couldn't have said it better. And one could use exactly the same words to show why the Brahms 4 that David Zinman was so much better than the one that Dudamel offered last fall with the Israel Philharmonic - and yes, I agree that the finale was a little bit of a letdown in Zinman's performance.

Dudamel is certainly talented, but I can't help thinking that he is trying to do too much. I mean music director of three orchestras plus busy guest-conducting? He should take time and mature. Of course, he can mature while conducting a great orchestra like LAPO, after al Salonen and Mehta did the same.

Posted by: cicciofrancolando | April 24, 2009 2:14 PM | Report abuse

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