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An Eroica lacking Heroics
on 22 August 2012
There were thrills and certainly some spills when the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela visited London in June. Nobody can doubt the excitement of seeing Dudamel on the podium, working with one one of the zestiest bands on the block. Yet rather than delivering their usual colourful fair, Dudamel and his team had decided to step up to the plate and tackle one of the toughest challenges in the repertoire, namely Beethoven's 'Eroica'. But rather than the expected heroics, the Venezuelans took a slightly backseat approach to the piece. Would things improve in the recording studio?
Comparisons can be cruel, but with Chailly's recent punch-to-the-gut renditions fresh in the memory and Barenboim's new West-Eastern Divan Orchestra recordings just out, there's something oddly slack about the opening of Dudamel's rendition. He takes a much broader, more romantic view than Chailly, but the Venezuelan strings lack definition. Other departments may redress that balance but broad shouldn't mean vague - as Klemperer more than ably demonstrates.
As in concert, Dudamel's slovenly Marcia funebre is unconvincing. Neither the notes nor the silences between them have the requisite electricity. Even in the third movement, which impressed live, there's an irritating slackness to the ensemble. Things galvanise in the tutti and the swagger of the final movement suits the orchestra well, but such flashes hardly constitute a thoroughbred reading of this seismic symphony. Only in the innately theatrical 'Prometheus' and 'Egmont' overtures - included as fillers - do you feel the requisite verve for which this orchestra is famed. A disappointment.