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Tchaikovsky & Shakespeare

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Product Details

  • Audio CD (March 8 2011)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Universal Music Canada
  • ASIN: B004I4HCU0
  • Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #228,600 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)
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1. Fantasie-Ouvertüre nach Shakespeare
2. Ouverture-fantaisie d'après Shakespeare
3. Obertura-fantasía a partir de Shakespeare
4. Der Sturm - Symphonische Fantasie
5. La Tempête - Fantaisie symphonique
6. La tempestad - Fantasía sinfonica
7. Romeo und Julia · Roméo et Juliette · Romeo y Julieta

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) HASH(0x97ea6fc0) out of 5 stars 6 reviews
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa0f19288) out of 5 stars Talk about a mixed bag... March 10 2011
By Ralph Moore - Published on
Format: Audio CD
Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Orchestra - the "Youth" bit now discreetly dropped as time has gone by - have already recorded Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony with DG and generally created quite a stir with their raw energy and marketability. They continue their series here with three Shakespeare-inspired works: "Hamlet", "The Tempest" and the "Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture".

The disc turns out to be a real oddity; there are two orchestras and two conductors here. The first combination makes a valuable contribution to the Tchaikovsky discography with powerful, assured interpretations of two relatively neglected symphonic fantasies: "Hamlet" and "The Tempest". The second delivers a thunderously ponderous account of the famous "Romeo and Juliet".

Dudamel's "Hamlet" cannot rival the grip and urgency of Stokowski's celebrated account (coupled with the even more stunning performance of a "Francesca da Rimini" which should be in every Tchaikovskian's collection) nor is the Simón Bolívar Orchestra anywhere near as virtuosic as Stokowski's "Stadium Symphony Orchestra" (the New York Philharmonic incognito) but they create an atmosphere of grim concentration - lento lugubre, indeed - which perhaps reflects the turmoil and melancholy of the composer's own temperament. There is certainly no danger here of the sentimentality some conductors indulge in - in fact a little more overt emotionalism would be welcome - and we do not hear the depth of singing tone in the strings or the subtle gradation of dynamics that Stokowski secures - but there is a good deal more grandeur and sense of shape and momentum than in the subsequent "Romeo and Juliet". Indeed, Dudamel captures much of the tragic intensity this piece demands, although the plaintive oboe theme representing Ophelia is coolly played and the love theme music itself remains slightly four-square, lacking the fantasy of the love music heard in Romeo and Juliet" and "Francesca da Rimini". Perhaps that is more Tchaikovsky's, not Dudamel's, fault, however.

"The Tempest", the earliest tone poem here, displays the musical influences the composer had experienced since he composed "The Storm" in 1864; we are now in the sound-world of "The Ring" and all the better for it. The opening combines a heroic, Wagnerian horn theme with a gradual crescendo betraying the influence of "Das Rheingold". We hear storms at sea, a depiction of Caliban and a strangely swooning, Hollywood-movie-style love theme on the strings for Miranda and Ferdinand. The opening lacks somewhat of the sense of mystery which more lightnes and legato in the strings would create but there is a haunting quality to the insistent, ostinato figure high on the violins reminiscent of Bruckner. Even a good performance played with energy such as we have here cannot prevent the piece from sounding a little too long, formless and episodic.

After two such engaging and thoughtful accounts, the "Romeo and Juliet" comes as a let-down. David Hurwitz was vitriolic about this release in his recent review on the Classics Today website, excoriating Dudamel's "droopy" tempi and "flaccid" rhythms and condemning the fight sequences as "about as dull as any yet recorded" and the love music as "remarkably under-characterized". I tend to take many, if not most, of his pronouncements with a big pinch of NaCl, yet he is in this instance right - at least about the "Romeo and Juliet", if not the other two tracks. Barely a trace emerges of the febrile eroticism which should suffuse the work; the rhythmic pulse constantly stalls. The whole enterprise is fatally hobbled by Dudamel's lugubrious tempi and a deliberateness which robs the music of all spontaneity.

The opening should drip tension, underlined by edgy, nervy litle marcato accents on each note to suggest impending doom, but Dudamel takes almost 7 minutes to reach the battle when it should take about 5. Phrases are accent-free and smoothed over; the effect is soporific. One has only to compare Dudamel's plodding pizzicato with that of Adrian Leaper and the RPO twenty years earlier on Naxos, a performance which positively sizzles with energy. The requisite brilliance in the swirling, scurrying string passages is missing because the Simón Bolívar strings cannot articulate with sufficient clarity, speed and snap. When the violas wheezed in to the famous - here, long-delayed - love theme like a band of superannuated bagpipes, I found my patience exhausted. This music is simply not played with the verve we expect from a celebrated youth orchestra. There is no ecstasy, no exaltation - just notes. A real dud.

The sound is a bit muddy and soft-edged: the drums thud soggily, the brass is too recessed and everything is a little muffled for a modern, digital, state-of-the-art DG recording. This dics is a real mixed bag which will, for some, be hopelessly compromised by the performance of the best-known item but might still to others be desirable for the accounts of the lesser-known music.
6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9b138600) out of 5 stars The art of bad conducting. Aug. 13 2013
By Colloredo von Salzburg - Published on
Format: Audio CD
This issue includes some of the worst Tchaikovsky performances ever done. It is Dudamel at his worst:
bombastic, noisy, effectist, but with no real understanding of this music, he never goes beyond the surface.
His terrible lack of deepness makes this music sound trivial and in summary, the apotheosis of banal. A pity.
7 of 11 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9847f42c) out of 5 stars superb sound but frustratingly variable interpretations March 16 2011
By David E Rowe - Published on
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
A superb DG recording lavished upon a frustratingly variable set of performances. When Dudamel gets it up, he produces very exciting, thrilling, goose-bump-inducing music. But when the music relaxes, which is much of the time in these scores, he, unfortunately, drops into a coma. Slow tempi are only part of the problem. Limp, to the point of losing all sight of the overall vision, is the real problem. However, even during these moments, the pianissimo playing of the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra is breathtaking. Many big-league orchestras can take a lesson here. It is common knowledge that it is much more difficult for an orchestra to play softly than to play loudly with bombast. Any second-rate orchestra can do bombast! Just look to any Marin Alsop recording to witness how easy it is to whip up empty "excitement". However, this orchestra produces simply incredible pianissimo playing. But, Dudamel is completely at fault here for allowing these glorious scores to fall flat just to show off how in control he is of this orchestra.

The best interpretation here is of Hamlet, the terrific bass drum adding to the glorious sonic palette. The Tempest is almost great, but the maximum forte (lack of) power of the brass fails to produce a true climax. Abbado/Chicago/SONY is impossible to better here. Romeo and Juliet is a complete and utter failure. By the time the Allegro arrives, the listener is completely comatose along with the conductor. A complete Tchaikovsky disaster, despite some gorgeous string tone in the love music. Seriously, how does any living musician ruin Tchaikovsky's Romeo and Juliet? Completely unforgivable. All of us couch/air conductors could do better. I would love to hear Dudamel remake this recording when he's awake. Does the L.A. audience tolerate this erratic behavior with their glorious orchestra? I'm afraid he may not last long in front of a real audience with this kind of erratic behavior. This is a very frustrating CD.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x97f9ede0) out of 5 stars Dudamel is in surprisingly weak form, but the music is weak, too April 1 2011
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on
Format: 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 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.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x982c2db0) out of 5 stars The conductor & performance fine..... Aug. 23 2012
By Paul - Published on
Format: Audio CD
however....the recording is muddy with virtually no sonic detail and a shallow pasty soundstage. Sorry, can't recommend it for the sad pathetic engineering.

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