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Average Symphony but spectacular "Francesca"
on 8 April 2009
If 3 stars equals "Average/middling performance" then because of the very fine Francesca da Rimini performance it is a bit harsh for this disc. But then, surely most buyers will get this for the Fifth Symphony rather than for the Symphonic Poem. Perhaps if it were possible then a rating ***(*) would be nearer the truth.
I listened to the disc "blind", not knowing who the conductor or orchestra was. My comment at the time was "Fairly good recording quality but not an interpretation that lights up too much." Indeed, some bits of the long first movement seemed to be rather carefully done - to the detriment of the emotional temperature. But these things are very subjective and I can only share how I felt. Given the price of this disc it needs to have something different to uncover in the music from "ordinary" interpretations because it is under intense competition from great interpreters like Mravinsky Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 who produce astonishingly intense performances in goodish sound. Alas I do not feel that it did so.
Yes I know: I am a mean and ungenerous person as this is an orchestra made up of kids, who are finding meaning in life by discovering "classical" music and playing it to good standards. Yet I cannot escape the suspicion that the Yellow Cartouche label is trying to pull off a marketing trick here: full price Tchaikovsky disc by a wonderful new talent and his special orchestra of charismatic youth delivers a unique experience.
And you know I might have had just that response had I known that this was a youth orchestra, as I am as sentimental as much of the rest of humanity. But I listened without the information and could say at the time of hearing that I much preferred Askenazy Tchaikovsky: Symphonies Nos. 4, 5 & 6, Pappano Tchaikovsky- Symphonies Nos 4 5 & 6 and the above-mentioned Mravinsky. And surely, DGG used to market its full-price discs using orchestras like the Berlin and Vienna Philharmonics, the Dresden Staatskapelle, the Leningrad Philharmonic, or, with Sinopoli, our own excellent Philharmonia (and even here there were mixed responses from professionals).
Are Universal doing Dudamel any favours by marketing him as a "young lion"? He can be spectacular in concert (I have seen him live on two occasions, once when he did a hair-raising Mendelssohn "Scottish" with the CBSO, losing his baton in the process) but I don't think he has transferred that to the medium of recording as yet. In this he is not alone as Karajan reportedly (see Osbourne's biography) was fighting the same battle in the early 1950's and Rattle was turning out alarmingly wonderful live performances of Mahler in Symphony Hall, Birmingham, whilst producing a rather timid set of recorded symphonies (except for the Second).
Well, after all that it is very pleasing to be able to say the the Francesca da Rimini is a wonderful performance, conducted with great elan and flair and with the orchestra playing its socks off! So good is this that it is ALMOST worth buying the disc for this alone, though you would have to be a Tchaikovsky afficianado or a Dudament "fan" to do that.
A mixed disc then. If you can sample it before buying I would strongly advise you to do so. Otherwise, there are many Tchaikovsky 5ths that are more exciting and more at one with the emotinal world of the composer and at a cheaper price.