Beethoven Symphony No. 3
This is the best conducting I have heard from Gustavo Dudamel, and the best playing from the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, as this Venzuelan ensemble is now called, having left its youth behind. It was recorded in a studio in Caracas, which may account partly for its unshowiness compared with some of their other performances. With its vast structure, the Eroica is one of the most demanding works in the repertoire – and it has been recorded many times over the decades.
The playing on this disc is tremendous, with the orchestra providing a glowing central European sound. The winds are impressive and the horns rise to the Symphony’s notorious challenges, particularly in the Trio of the third movement. Meanwhile, Dudamel’s view of the work is in some respects unusual. His extreme use of dynamics is not only inauthentic (about which I don’t feel strongly) but also unidiomatic (about which I do). In the transition passages of the second movement funeral march he lets the sound drop away to such a degree that it feels as if we are entering the world of Mahler.
Such exaggerated fadings also undermine Beethoven’s structure, separating episodes instead of linking them. Still, there is much beauty to be found here and some devastating climaxes. The two overtures are also given high-voltage accounts and that is an impressive achievement, irrespective of the social background of the players.