Tchaikovsky – Symphony No. 5; Francesca da Rimini

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2.0 out of 5 star rating 2.0

COMPOSERS: Tchaikovsky
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Symphony No. 5; Francesca da Rimini
PERFORMER: Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel
CATALOGUE NO: 477 8022

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Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra of Venezuela are a phenomenon in some ways comparable to Barenboim and the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra. Both maestros have galvanised a group of young players into a disciplined body of performers who travel the world and inspire large audiences with their enthusiasm and professionalism.

There, however, for the time being, the similarity ceases. For while Barenboim and his players produce impressive interpretations of acknowledged masterpieces and of difficult modern works, Dudamel and his orchestra are exciting and even amazing in colourful popular repertoire, but one can’t say, on the basis of this recording, made live last year, that as interpreters they even begin.

This huge orchestra attacks Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony with hungry relish, but the results are noisy and shapeless, sometimes entering into previously uncharted regions of vulgarity.

Long and loud though the first two movements are, I was surprised when they were over, because no real climax had been reached. Alternatively one might say that it includes almost nothing but climaxes, which is self-defeating.

The third movement is better, until an unprovoked stampede in the final bars has one gaping. But the last movement, after the sombre introduction, is so staggeringly fast that one is impressed only by the technique and the orchestra’s unanimity, not at all by the music.

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Francesca da Rimini is better, especially in the expansive central lyrical session, but again it seems more of a dazzling exercise. Altogether this is only for connoisseurs of the bizarre. Of the many fine recordings of the Fifth Symphony, one might single out Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra for precision and virtuosity combined with passion and even – yes – taste. Michael Tanner