Gustavo Dudamel: Also Sprach Zarathustra, R Strauss
What most surprises me about Dudamel’s Strauss interpretations is how little they seem the work of an exuberant young conductor. Don Juan is the most arthritic of the three figures in question, and takes things too slowly. The fact that the oboe solo portraying the second, deepest love of the two episodes is so beguiling is no excuse for Dudamel to linger. The adventures of Till Eulenspiegel, prankster extraordinaire, are framed by two ‘upon a time’ themes lacking spontaneous warmth. Still, some escapades work well, the D clarinet is supremely brilliant and there’s a real chill from the violas as our hero has a premonition of his untimely end.
Most frustrating is Also sprach Zarathustra, because there are even more unique pleasures here: the clarity of the string rushes in the sweep of the Joys and Passions sequence, the colours of the twilight zones, the high trumpet heralding the joy of the waltzing convalescent (where one of the co-leaders, Daniel Stabrawa, really shines). But Dudamel’s heavier tempos merely accentuate how this big orchestral work is split into a predominantly ponderous first half and an incandescent second.
Sound is nowhere near as synthetic as it used to be in the Herbert von Karajan Berlin era, but an impression of shallow brilliance remains, with wind solos too far upfront. In no way other than the playing, then, is this the high-class gambit DG might have hoped. It’s outshone by recent Strauss orchestral releases from Markus Stenz (Hyperion) and Francois-Xavier Roth (Hanssler). The old Concertgebouw/Bernard Haitink recording shines brighter in Zarathustra, and Haitink also has a livelier grip on the two more human heroes.