Customer Review

5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Dudamel is in surprisingly lax form for two weak scores and a beloved warhorse, 10 Mar. 2011
This review is from: Tchaikovsky & Shakespeare (Audio CD)
It would make a difference if this depressing CD were the brain child of an R and R man at DG, someone trying to fill a hole in the catalog. But one can never have too few versions of Tchaikovsky's ambitious flop, "Hamlet," and in a perfect world anyone who became intrigued by it could listen to Stokowski's suitably bombastic assault on Everest (or the more obscure Bernstein from New York on Sony, which is better played) and forget the matter ever after. This is music of truly Lisztian emptiness and posturing, riddled with banal themes and empty rhetoric. Dudamel seems to feel that being as sensitive to the score as possible will bring out hidden depths, but what can you do with dross? Wikipedia informs us that Tchaikovsky wrote this 18-minute overture-fantasy (a term of his own invention that is basically the same as a Liszt tone poem) in 1888 as he was orchestrating the Fifth Symphony.

The score doesn't depict any action in the play, or even the principal characters, but evokes its moods. There's a completely unmemorable love theme, and in the middle a gentle oboe solo brings Ophelia to mind. The rest is generically gloomy. the secret to bringing off trite music is to play it with total conviction, as Bernstein and Stokowski did, but Dudamel's surprising reticence only reminds us of how right Tchaikovsky's perpetual doubts could sometimes be. Sad to say, the next item in this Shakespeare-themed album is equally forgettable, The Tempest, a tone poem dating from 1873, fifteen years before Hamlet. The music evokes the stillness of the sea, the storm that follows, the wild nature of Caliban, and the love between Ferdinand and Miranda on Prospero's magical isle. Not that the program matters given the second-rateness of the music, which at least doesn't flaunt its emptiness.

Which brings us to the only success that Tchaikovsky actually had with Shakespeare as his inspiration, the ubiquitous Romeo and Juliet, a score so popular that it plays itself. Or so I thought until I heard Dudamel fuss over the opening with intrusive pauses, slack rhythms, and a general air of strained sensitivity. What in the world went wrong? The meteoric rise of this conductor was based on his charisma and fiery passion, yet here is a reading that evokes none of those qualities. He also takes 22 min. to perform the work, dragging in slower than Masur and Barenboim, who aren't exactly fireballs. Even the tempestuous middle section is seriously underplayed. Finally, since my copy is a download, I don't know how the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra morphed into the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra, but it is the same group as before, with the same youthful personnel. ?they play well but not spectacularly, which can also be said of DG's sound.
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Location: Santa Fe, NM USA

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