classical cd Review

CD review: Gustavo Dudamel conducts Tchaikovsky's Shakespeare overtures

Gustavo Dudamel, 30, burnishes his reputation with his new recording of three Tchaikovsky overtures.
Gustavo Dudamel, 30, burnishes his reputation with his new recording of three Tchaikovsky overtures. (Deutsche Grammophon)
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By Mark J. Estren
Sunday, March 6, 2011

Excitement, splendid orchestral playing and rousing fortissimo sections are three hallmarks of Gustavo Dudamel's performances of the three Tchaikovsky symphonic overtures based on Shakespeare. But three things these readings lack are nuance, a strong emotional connection in slow sections and a sense of the works' formal construction.

It could be argued that what is missing here is unimportant in light of all that is present. Dudamel gets remarkable sounds from the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela: snarling brass and shrieking violins in "Hamlet," squealing winds in "The Tempest" and a gorgeous harp in "Romeo and Juliet." And many people find Tchaikovsky's sense of structure lacking and his emoting syrupy and overdone. For them, the relative coolness of the lovely oboe solo in "Hamlet" and the violas' first presentation of the "love theme" from "Romeo and Juliet" will be a salutary corrective to other conductors' over-sentimental readings.

But those who consider Tchaikovsky to be a composer of more than treacle will wish that Dudamel had not made the quiet ocean portrayed at the start of "The Tempest" quite so lakelike, or the funereal close of "Romeo and Juliet" quite so matter-of-fact.

Dudamel's already substantial wunderkind reputation will surely be enhanced by this album,which does include some real subtleties, such as slight extensions of silences that make the ensuing full-orchestral entries even more dramatic. But the disc also shows that Dudamel, who just turned 30, could be a better conductor - even a great one - if he relied a little more on the formal and emotional inner workings of music such as this and a little less on his own undoubted skill and his orchestra's wonderfully responsive playing.

Tchaikovsky & Shakespeare Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, conducted by Gustavo Dudamel. Deutsche Grammophon. $17.99.


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