Editors' pick

Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela


Editorial Review

By Geoffrey Himes
Friday, November 30, 2012

Gustavo Dudamel works with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and Sweden’s Gothenburg Symphony, but the ensemble closest to his heart is the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, for which he serves as artistic director. He recorded his latest album, “Beethoven 3,” with that ensemble, the product of Venezuela’s renowned training program El Sistema, which nurtured Dudamel as a young violinist. But this album would be impressive even without that back story for its version of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 in E-flat, the “Eroica,” which draws drama from the conductor’s masterful control of tension and release.

To understand how he achieves that, one need only watch the DVD documentary included with Dudamel’s “Discoveries,” a new greatest-hits package. He is shown rehearsing the orchestra for the “Eroica,” constantly interrupting to insist that it’s not enough to be pretty or elegant; he wants an underlying tension in even the loveliest passages.

Once known as the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra, the ensemble has matured into one of the world’s best orchestras, with a lustrous timbre in every section. Beneath that seductive tonality, however, are echoes of Beethoven’s tug of war between heroic ideals and obstacles. In the opening, for example, when two blasted-out chords are followed by strings, there’s a friction in that lush legato. That tension surfaces over and over, to be resolved and then re-created in a way that revivifies this most familiar work.