Customer Review

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars More for fans of Dudamel than a "library" Mahler 5, 13 Aug 2007
This review is from: Mahler: Symphony No.5 (Audio CD)
Gustavo Dudamel can produce electricfying effects in concert - I have seen him twice - and has presence and a "charisma" when seen live. I suppose that this highlights what is "missing" when we hear CD's: the whole experience of being in the company of talented people labouring very hard to do their best for the audience. And there is no doubt that the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra has many talented musicians who follow Dudamel through his attempts at interpretation of what has become one of the most recorded Mahler symphonies.

But Mahler 5 is a killer to perform and the young Simon Rattle came a cropper with it at around about the same age as is Dudamel at present - so much so that he did not programme it in Birmingham again until he had been the orchestra's Music Director for about 16 years. There are so many contrasted moods and excruciatingly difficult sections to play that an orchestra and conductor can somehow drift off from a thought through interpretation - something that happened in the concert performances that Warner recorded by Sakari Oramo and the CBSO, thus producing an interpretation that did not match the cohesive view that Oramo had produced in the performaces in the previous season and which, alas, Warner did NOT record. This is what happens here.

The overall emotional structure of the symphony is difficult to fathom anyway. Part One is two shortish movements that mirror each other in grief and anger, Part Two is a huge orchestral Scherzo with an ambivalent mood of playfulness and irony and with two hugely romantic horn-led trio sections, and Part Three is a love song (the famous Adagietto) that is transmogrified into a gleeful romping rondo in the Finale. The musical link is the brief appearance of the D Major chorale at the end of the "Stormily breaking-out" second movement with the huge life-asserting reappearance of the music as the eventually reached climax of the Finale. Bruno Walter's wonderfully conceived but scrawnily recorded perfomance from 1947 places both of these moments with unerring accuracy and a sense of total rightness (and in just over an hour!), and interpreters like Barbirolli, Bernstein, Abbado, Kubelik and Haitink (from the box of live Concertgebouw Christmas Concerts but NOT the BPO performance)in their very different ways manage almost to rival Walter's genius here. Alas, Dudamel cannot do it yet - though I am sure that he will eventually grow into a coherent interpretation. The frenetic Finale is full of surface excitement and this leads to the great Chorale theme being rather dashed-off and disappointingly anti-climactic in this recording. It left me feeling slightly "hollow" at the end.

Part One goes fairly well in that the orchestra follows the agogic pauses and nudges that Dudmel introduces into the funeral march sections. If this is "like a funeral procession" (wie ein Konduckt) then the mourners seem to be covertly practising their dance steps. The players follow all this magnificently and show that a well-rehearsed youth orchestra can be one of the most exciting types of ensemble to hear.

But the big Scherzo of Part Two does not hang together and indeed I found it to be episodic and not a little dull.

The Adagietto is pretty poor too with Dudamel seeming to be more involved in producing SOUNDS from his players than in making real the emotional content. It is really rather slow and there is a fussy attention to producing really quiet playing just for its own sake that I find offputting.

Part Three concludes with a hectic Rondo-Finale that, as I have said above, manages to misfire at the very climax.

If you are the Mum or Dad of one of the orchestral players you will of course rush out and buy this disc. I suppose if you are Gustavo's Mum or Dad the same thing would apply. I would not blame anyone for being intensely proud of these young players who really try very hard in horribly difficult to perform music. Yet I think that anyone buying this would have to have an extra musical reason for doing so (like being a relation) when each of the conductors I have already mentioned, and one or two more, have produced discs that are deeply moving and profoundly satisfying interpretatons that are sometimes (like Barbirolli for example) considerably cheaper to buy.
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Colin Fortune

Location: Birmingham, UK

Top Reviewer Ranking: 4,635