on 18 September 2013
Gustavo Dudamel has made a big splash on the international music scene and has fostered a great relationship with the Berlin Phil as a favored guest conductor. Despite his reputation as a dazzling showman, it's been thrilling to follow Dudamel as he blossoms into a startlingly mature conductor. Earlier this year we heard a great Mahler 9th from Los Angeles that had the all the commitment of a skilled veteran.
Actually, it's about time to stop viewing Dudamel as up-and-coming and acknowledge that he's already arrived. As a sad commentary on the state of the recording industry, very few discs from guest conductors have been released at Berlin during Simon Rattle's tenure. (EMI wasn't generous with Rattle, either.) Now that we finally can hear Dudamel at the helm of this great orchestra, we hear how masterly he truly is. It must be a temptation for a young maestro to be enamored in the sound of the Berliners and forget to deliver an actual interpretation. But Dudamel conducts with authority that gives no hint of a need to grow. He produces a wonderful, rich sound that brings out the individuality of the Berliners, yet there's no pretentiousness or fussiness. His control is truly captivating.
Karajan was a great exponent of Strauss, with a particularly gripping reading of Also Sprach Zarathustra on Decca with the Vienna Phil, but neither Abbado or Rattle have recorded it. Dudamel has the advantage of impeccable modern sound from DG which produces maximum impact. The thrill of hearing the most dazzling virtuosos in the world give their all is twice as mesmerizing when we feel we can hear each individual instrument no matter how crushing the total volume. Dudamel certainly deserves a lion's share of the credit for achieving dramatic continuum that revels in each moment without either loitering or becoming impatient. In a promotional video, Dudamel said he viewed this live recording as one of the high points of his career. It's easy to agree in the face of conducting that is so natural and effervescent. I'd have to agree with the previous reviewer who finds Dudamel particularly thoughtful and measured. I'd also agree that the fillers don't have the same impact, but they're still a treasure in their own right--readings on this level aren't released every day.
At this point I think Dudamel's boyish image as portrayed by the media has traces of inaccuracy, at least in relating to his actual style. All throughout this disc there is a feeling of abandonment but also of complete confidence. Dudamel comes to the core of the Germanic repertoire with freshness, to be sure, but with definite indications of experience. It's a marvel hearing him guide the orchestra with adeptness that balances everything perfectly while still welding everything into compact, intense whole.
Considering that Berlin is searching for a new conductor in 2018, a major new release like this one makes one wonder if Dudamel is posing as a candidate. He's a dark-horse candidate to be sure, but I have no doubt that he is better prepared for the task than Christian Thielemann , the current favorite. In the meantime, we have a Strauss disc that is truly unforgettable.
on 2 November 2013
Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathurstra is less a philosophical treatise and more like dynamite. Its impact is seismic. It's akin (in the very least) to Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of the Castle-Church in Wittenberg. Witness the following:
"I teach you the Superman. Man is something that shall be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? All beings so far have created something beyond themselves; and do you want to be the ebb of this great flood and even go back to the beasts rather than overcome man? What is the ape to man? A laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. And man shall be just that for the Superman: a laughing-stock or a painful embarrassment. You have made your way from worm to man, and much in you is still worm. Once you were apes, and even now, too, man is more ape than any ape. . . . Behold, I teach you the Superman! The Superman is the meaning of the earth. Let your will say: the Superman shall be the meaning of the earth! I beseech you, my brothers, remain faithful to the earth, and do not believe those who speak to you of otherworldly hopes! Poison-mixers are they, whether they know it or not. Despisers of life are they, decaying and poisoned themselves, of whom the earth is weary: so let them go!"
This is the re-evaluation of all values, top to bottom. Surely it warrants tension in the act of delivery, even if the message be transmitted through Richard Strauss?
For all the incidental beauties of the Berlin Philharmonic, that's what I find missing here in the Dude's performance: tension - namely, a deep-set awareness that this manifesto is dangerous and for better or worse, it's going to change the world forever.
Karajan '73 delivers it in spades. For instance, listen to the closing chords of the first movement in the leading up to the fortissimo: the Berlin Phil of yesteryear bets the house; its latter-day namesake plays very stylishly and that's about it.
It makes me wonder to what extent the Dude is conversant with Nietzsche (to say nothing of the current members of the orchestra). That being said, I hear a similar lack of tension in Rattle's Ein Heldenleben. Its reoccurrence makes me wonder if absolution should be granted to Sir Simon; perhaps the flaw lies within the DNA of the current Berlin Philharmonic. Stylish obbligato contributions from this principal or that are no substitute for the Furor Teutonicus of yesteryear.
If the duel between Karajan and Dudamel were occurring in the same weight-division - the prize-fight in Don Juan and Til Eulenspeigel would be more even than what they are. As things stand, the Dude offers well-manicured, lightweight readings which do not bespeak longevity. It's a KO to Herbie.
As such, I am aligned with Stewart on this one.
Time will tell.
on 23 September 2013
Just as with his recent recording of Mahler 9 with the LA Phil, it's good to hear Gustavo Dudamel without the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra. Indeed for both to grow I wonder whether they should now go their separate ways. For, unsurprisingly, when Dudamel is at the helm of the Berlin Phil he sounds on significantly finer form, though there are still elements of his interpretation of late Romantic repertoire that need refining. Dudamel, like all performers, is a work in progress, though in his case we are being exposed to a number of trial runs.
This new Strauss disc - taken from live performances in Berlin of Also sprach Zarathustra in 2012 and Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche and Don Juan in 2013 - is characteristically exciting and inventive. The orchestra is on largely top form, sounding as luscious as you could wish, though Dudamel occasionally glosses over details, as in his Mahler, opting instead for his favourite booming dynamics. While the Venezuelans capitulate to these more wayward aspects of his style, they are thankfully tempered somewhat by the Berliners.
Sometimes, however, even these experienced players get carried away. While 'Von den Hinterweltlern' in Also sprach Zarathustra is luxurious but measured, you crave a little more bite in 'Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften'. This is, after all, a musical expression of the tensions between man and the universe. Dudamel certainly communicates the excitement and grandeur of the work, but not the dialectics that inspired Strauss to turn to Nietzsche in the first place. And I wonder whether Dudamel has fully grasped the wit of 'Das Tanzlied' or the irresolution of 'Das Nachtwandlerlied'.
Brilliantly played again though it is, Dudamel's rendition of Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche cannot erase the true abandon of Markus Stenz and the Gürzenich Orchester's recording for Hyperion earlier this year. And perhaps I was too fresh from Jansons and the Vienna Phil's new film of Don Juan to enjoy Dudamel's performance as much as I should. Yet for all the ravishing playing - the Berlin horn section is absolutely stonking in Don Juan - Dudamel really needs to find a way of letting us hear more layers of these complex works. While lavish sound is never in short supply, there has to be more to drive you back to a recording again and again. So while there is terrific shape to Dudamel's phrasing and the pacing is largely effortless throughout, there are much more refined interpretations of these works, both historically by the Berlin Phil and from others in recent months.
Gustavo Dudamel has received, deservedly, universal acclaim for his work with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra in his native Venezuela. The social implications of the enlightened project that led to its creation have been immense, and the lessons learned have resonated throughout the world.
If we are brutally honest, when it comes to that particular orchestra Dr. Samuel Johnson's famous remark about having seen a dog dancing on its hind legs is appropriate, that being" the issue is not how well it was done, but that it was done at all".
In an era when so many conductors are "faceless", Dudamel's engaging personality is a welcome relief, but a major component of the key to great conducting is being able to inspire the musicians to translate the personality of the conductor into their playing as much as into the interpretation.
Any conductor who tackles Strauss tone poems in Berlin is potentially on a hiding to nothing as the spectre of Karajan hovers malevolently over the proceedings. Just as in Cleveland with Szell, no matter who conducts these works in Berlin, Karajan always gets a review!
Whatever one's opinion of Karajan as an interpreter, it is beyond question that his performances of Strauss were infused with HIS personality, which was manifested in the intensity of the playing, each individual note being played through and an atmosphere of tension relieved by ecstasy particularly in Zarathustra, which with Don Quixote is the most challenging of the Strauss tone poems to bring off, needing careful balancing between darkness and light and especially careful avoidance of the traps that can lead to musical longeurs.
I'm sorry to say that the word to best sum up this performance of Zarathustra is flaccid.
I find it devoid of energy, inspiration and for me-interest. I have waited for some time to compile this review, as I have returned many times to this recording to ensure that I was not affected by temporary mood etc, but each repeat hearing has reinforced my conviction.
From the very opening, the mystery and grandeur of the sunrise are totally absent, and if this fails to grip, things are bad indeed. There is a lethargy about the whole performance which has infected the players, and the playing sounds to me as if the orchestra was uninvolved.
The passage described as "Von der Wissenschaft" seems interminable as the fugue drags on, and the Tanzlied lacks spring and liveliness. It's not just the slow tempi-that can work as Tennstedt demonstrates in his gripping recording with an inspired LPO-it's the lack of energy and inspiration not being conveyed to the players.
Of course, the Berlin Philharmonic plays with flawless accomplishment and the recording is very good though there is some opaqueness in more congested passages, and it is not demonstration class, so on a superficial level it is a pleasing experience.
The Zarathustra is not dreadful-but it IS dull and to me that is unforgiveable.
A similar state of affairs pertains to the 2 fillers which are at best routine and competent. The Don Juan totally fails to arouse any excitement; Till Eulenspiegel is a dull fellow whose pranks fall flat.
Again, very well played and recorded and pleasant enough but not inspiring.
I can imagine the Spectre of Karajan thumbing its nose in the manner of Petruchka over the whole proceedings.
Karajan was a master of these works, particularly Zarathustra with 4 commercially released CDs, plus DVD and "unofficial" recordings. For me his finest performances are the Decca VPO recording, stunning in the 24 Bit re-mastering made in Japan which can be had as an import at huge expense, and his live Salzburg BPO performance released on Testament, but obviously his re-mastered Digital recording is sonically the best. Conventional wisdom has the 1970's performance on Originals as the best choice, and indeed it was BBC Radio 3's Critics Choice as Best Overall Choice in 2012. They are all superb.
My own top recommendations besides the Karajan recordings are the aforementioned Tennstedt contained in an astonishing bargain box, Previn with the VPO on Telarc which is not just artistically superior but sonically also and both Digital Recordings by Maazel are superb-the VPO recording coupled with a superb Sinfonia Domestica and Dolby Surround recording with the BRSO a very different reading, with a transparency and chamber-like approach which is revelatory in many passages and with glorious climaxes juxtaposed.
Famous performances by Reiner, Ormandy and Steinberg are all excellent but not in the very best of sound comparatively.
For Don Juan and Till, Reiner and Solti both with the CSO are hard to beat and if you want an eccentric view of Don Juan, Klemperer shows how slow tempi can be effective when an inspirational conductor is on the podium (it's actually my favourite performance and the recording and playing are superb!)
I'm afraid that to my ears, and not just in this recording, there is an element of " Emperor's New Clothes" about the work of Dudamel-I find his Mahler unlistenable, with his performance of the Second in London absolutely stultifying-I hope it does not get Resurrected in any form. (Sorry!)
The good that this conductor has done on a social level and in bringing great music to a wider and unlikely audience is immense, and I wish him well and am mindful that he is young and could well mature into a really fine artist.
Here I have to advise on this recording, and I would not recommend it to any but his ardent fans and those who cannot resist any recordings by the BPO.
I would award 2 stars for performance, but the recording and playing are good with a wide dynamic range (though no SACD) so a generous 3 stars.
on 9 December 2014
Buy others recordings. This is disappointing!!!
on 12 October 2013
Also Sprach Zarathustra is, in my view, one of the supreme pieces of music of all time, and is much under rated. Much as I love my Mahler, Beethoven, Britten, Shostakovich and many others, Zarathustra remains at my musical peak.
I also admire Strauss's courage in tackling this subject, which places him far ahead of his time. The ideas expressed in the tone poem, which are is not identical to Nietzsche's, are often misunderstood by critics. But in actuality Strauss anticipates twenty first century secular, moral society in an impressive way.
I came to this recording with some apprehension, as I have been brought up on Boehm and Karajan, but have been unimpressed by many subsequent Zarathustras.
I needn't have worried, for Dudamel does an excellent job. He frequently provides a sightly different emphasis from his predecessors, and this, together with the modern sound, enables one to hear many sections in a new light.
One of the critical sections of Zarathustra is the fourth section, "Von den Freuden und Leidenschaften" (Of Joys and Passions), which really needs to be played with complete abandon and passion in order to have impact. Dudamel passes this test in flying colours.
Zarathustra has a very special flavour among all music - it needs to sound cosmic, strange and to give you that slightly unsettled tummy kind of feeling, especially in the third section, "Von der großen Sehnsucht" (Of the Great Longing). Again, the new recording captures this well.
Towards the end of Das Tanzlied the 'Spirit of Man' theme reaches its ultimate fulfilment in one of the most sublime passages in all music - and once again Dudamel delivers in full.
My only slight reservation is the sound, which comes across as a little dry in places, and does not quite match the contemporary best of Chandos or Hyperion. Nonetheless, it is still very good in the studio master download version.
on 21 September 2013
These are versions recorded live during concerts in 2012 and 2013. You can feel how Dudamel starts to build his case on being named Musical Director of the Berliner Philarmoniker. So be it. The quality of the performers is beyond doubt and the rapport between Orchestra and Conductor is undeniable.
on 24 August 2016
Very pleasing performance
on 1 November 2013
I choose this CD first of all to optain yet another CD with Gustavo Dudamel.
He is excellent in conducting.