I was mightily impressed when this young orchestra and conductor appeared at the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts in 2007, playing Shostakovich’s Tenth Symphony and music from the Americas. However, I’m one of those people who is instinctively suspicious of ‘hype’ – or what might be ‘hype’ – and some of the adulatory press coverage these musicians have since received has made me thoughtful. So I was more than a little intrigued by the prospect of this CD.
As it so happened, just a few days before receiving it I’d written a review of a 1929 recording of
Le Sacre by Pierre Monteux – one of the very first recordings made of the piece – and in the course of itRead more I commented that Monteux’s professional musicians audibly struggled with what was then very new music whereas nowadays it’s not at all unusual to hear youth orchestras performing the piece “with panache and even insouciance”. That comment remains true, I think, except that now I must qualify it by adding that very few youth orchestras could play
Le Sacre like this!
This is, by any standards, a remarkable performance of Stravinsky’s ground breaking masterpiece. In the course of this review I’m probably going to comment on a number of spectacular moments in the performance so let me say at the outset that one of the most noteworthy features of it is the way in which the quiet, subtle passages are delivered. So, for example, the playing in the Introduction to Part Two (track 9) is as delicate and demonstrates as much finesse as one would expect in a performance of, say, Debussy or Ravel – the muted trumpets are really rather special. The finesse is equally evident in the following section, ‘Cercles mystérieux des adolescentes’ (track 10) and earlier, in Part One, ‘Adoration de la terre – Le Sage’ (track 7) is amazingly hushed and mysterious.
But above all it’s the sheer physicality of this performance that grips the listener. In the booklet Dudamel says of his players “this orchestra simply has rhythm in its blood”, and he’s right. Throughout the work the playing has pin-point accuracy and the rhythms are always razor-sharp. In this connection, note, for example, the incisive horns and timpani in ‘Jeu de rapt’ (track 3). The power of the playing is quite exceptional. True, there are one or two instances where I thought the response was just a shade too zealous – the bass drum is on the dominant side in the hammered crotchets that begin ‘Glorification de l’élue’ (track 11) – but, overall the control that Dudamel exerts is very impressive.
He clearly has the score at his fingertips. I thought that his tempo for ‘Rondes printanières’ (track 4) was a shade too deliberate – though by no means slack – but on the other hand, the great
fff eruptions later in that same section, founded on thunderous low drums and tam-tam, sound implacable at this speed and, in the true sense of the word, awesome. When required Dudamel gets a whiplash attack from his players – ‘Danse de la terre’ (track 8) is frenetic – and several times he unleashes brazen power, as, for example, in ‘Cortège du sage’ (track 6), where the baleful brass and menacing percussion are terrifyingly imposing.
Above all, this performance has tension right from the opening bassoon solo through to the barbaric power displayed in ‘Danse sacrale’ at the end It’s a truly thrilling performance and the one thing that surprised me was that there was no applause at the end – the Revueltas piece
is applauded. It’s the sort of performance of
Le Sacre that would bring the house down in the concert hall, and justifiably so. The catalogue boasts many fine recordings of
Le Sacre but this one can certainly take its place alongside the very best.
The coupling is novel, intriguing and highly appropriate. The music of the Mexican composer, Silvestre Revueltas, will probably be unfamiliar to many people, as it was to me. Gustavo Dudamel says that
La noche de los mayas (‘Night of the Maya’) “fits perfectly with Stravinsky’s ballet music because it also revolves around rituals, dances and sacrificial acts”. I can only say that the coupling is inspired. The score was originally composed for a 1939 film. It’s unclear if the score as recorded here is a four-movement suite drawn from the film music but according to the booklet the piece was first performed in 1960, some twenty years after the composer’s death. Paul Griffiths, writing elsewhere, has labelled it a “neo-primitive blockbuster”. That’s a very apt description but I’d take issue with it very slightly as it may mislead the reader by overlooking the several gentle sections in the work. And as was the case with
LeSacre, Dudamel and his players are just as impressive in the quieter passages as they are in the high-octane stretches of music.
The first movement, which carries the same title as the whole work, begins with monumental music of dark, frightening power. Percussion and brass are very much to the fore here. But within a couple of minutes this has given way to a more calm passage in which strings and woodwind predominate. And in fact it’s this quieter material, which sometimes takes on a mysterious, nocturnal character, that occupies most of the movement until at 6:15 the potent opening music returns for the last minute and a half or so of the duration of the piece.
The second movement, entitled ‘Noche de jaranas’ (‘Night of revelry’) is vivacious and light on its feet. In fact, it’s Fiesta time. The music never slows – indeed, if anything it gathers pace – and it displays irresistible energy and brio. The rhythms are irregular and catchy and are spring superbly by these young players. After all this merriment the third movement, ‘Noche de Yucatán’ (‘Yucatán Night’) offers not just repose but also great beauty. This is a gorgeous nocturne, played out, one could readily imagine, below an ink-blue, cloudless ad starlit sky. The playing is absolutely beautiful – in particular there’s some super-fine soft string playing around 6:00.
Then, without a break, we’re plunged into ‘Noche de encantamiento’ (‘Night of Enchantment’). This, the longest of the movements, lasting nearly ten minutes, is simply stunning. The percussion section, clearly crammed full of all manner of exotic instruments, strikes up at 1:03 and, to the best of my recollection, are an ever-present force for the rest of the piece. At one point (2:02-3:41) they take centre stage, while the rest of the orchestra falls silent, to deliver an extended improvisatory passage, which is thrilling. The rhythms and the use of percussion – and, indeed, of other orchestral colouring – in this finale is quite intoxicating and I would guess that the Venezuelans are having huge fun – but very disciplined and focused fun. As the movement progresses so does the tension and the excitement mount and the final section (from 8:27), which is marked
con violencia is delivered with swaggering power. At the end the audience erupts and I’m not surprised.
These are both live recordings, although the audience is commendably silent until the end of the Revueltas. Obviously, I don’t know how much editing has been done but both performances have the feel of single ‘takes’. Though the orchestra’s playing is impressive enough anyway, it helps that DG has recorded them in superb sound. The recording has great impact but, additionally, the quiet passages register really impressively and a huge amount of inner detail is readily audible without any artificial enhancement – mind you, that’s a tribute to Dudamel’s skill also.
How marvellous it is to hear accurate, uninhibited performances of hugely demanding music by young musicians, whose enthusiasm is as palpable as their technical accomplishment. Truly, the musical education programme, “El Sistema”, at the pinnacle of which sits the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra, is a remarkable thing if it can produce musicians of this calibre.
Among the many fine CDs that are released each year only a handful really have the ‘Wow!” factor. This is one such disc.
Gustavo Dudamel takes a fast and fierce approach to Stravinsky's Le Sacre du Printemps, generating excitement mainly through speed, with large helpings of volume thrown in for good measure. Such an approach stirs up much energy, and no doubt works well in the concert hall. However, on recordings the shock and surprise can wear off in subsequent auditions (sort of like the piece itself).
There's plenty of surface fire in the orchestral playing--the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela certainly has the technical chops--but rarely do you get the sense of edge-of-your seat tension. Perhaps Le Sacre no longer presents the fierce challenge to orchestral musicians it once did, but that doesn't mean they should make it sound easy. (Hearing Ansermet's scrappy Suisse Romande Orchestra hanging on for dear life in music it can barely play is part of the thrill.) Boulez, who eschews Dudamel's sprinting, nonetheless generates excitement through exacting rhythmic precision and wonderfully realized Stravinskian timbres.
It's those timbres that I miss most in Dudamel's rendition. Woodwinds lack the composer's piquant colors (as in the Introduction to Part 2), while the horns, never a strong point with this orchestra, at times get swallowed up in the overall ensemble sound, most egregiously in the concluding Sacrificial Dance. The recording, while sporting wide dynamic range and good bass, sets the orchestra at a distance, which may account for the diminished inner-voice impact (but doesn't explain the barely audible tam-tam in Ritual Action of the Ancestors).
Revueltas' La Noche de Los Mayas suffers no such sonic anomalies, with its huge dynamic range (as well as its many crashing tuttis) perfectly captured by the engineers. The Venezuelan players tear into the piece with all the gusto you'd expect for this exotic, wild music. Dudmael summons his usual raw, visceral energy, but also conjures brilliant, vivid colors from all sections of the orchestra. Yet he handles the quiet moments with admirable delicacy and tenderness. If you're not familiar with La Noche de Los Mayas you really ought to hear this performance. It alone is worth the price of the disc, while Le Sacre constitutes a nice make-weight.
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Period: 20th Century Written: 1911-1913
La noche de los mayas: Suiteby Silvestre Revueltas
Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela
Period: 20th Century Written: 1939; Mexico
Average Customer Review: ( 2 Customer Reviews )
Thrilling! The most amazing Rite yet.March 12, 2013By David R. (Denver, CO)See All My Reviews"I'm a little behind getting to this disc. After being so disappointed with Dudamel's Tchaikovsky (Romeo & Juliet/Hamlet) CD, this one went to the bottom of the pile. But it is surely one of the very best Rite of Springs ever, and certainly Dudamel's very best disc so far. Since this has been so generously reviewed here on Amazon, I will keep this brief. Suffice it to say, I was completely bowled over by this performance. No, it is not the most powerful version ever, but it is the most imaginative and colorful I've ever heard. It is full of atmosphere and detail and orchestral colors. And don't take that to mean it is therefore slow and boring like Dudamel's Tchaikovsky is. This is energetic, often very fast and absolutely thrilling. The Sacraficial Dance is surely the fastest on record. And it is all superbly played. Listening to this blind, I'd pronounce this the best orchestra in the world! What you can hear is that these players still care. They haven't played it a thousand times and aren't just going through the motions like so many of our professional orchestras do. They absolutely care and play brilliantly for their conductor, who has never produced a more inspired and exciting performance. DG's recording is also excellent - colorful, atmospheric, and with generous wallops from the very powerful bass drum. This is just sensational in every way. Oh, and the Revueltas is good too, but it is the Stravsinky that blew me away."Report Abuse
Rhythm and clarity reveal StravinskyAugust 16, 2012By John McLain (San Francisco, CA)See All My Reviews"This recording is a revelation. Mo. Dudamel and his magnificent orchestra play Le Sacre du Printemps with such precision and accuracy that each phrase leads to the next with complete understanding. Every person in this orchestra understands and fulfills the phrase they are creating no matter the density of Stravinsky's composing. I have lived with Le Sacre all my life, believing it to be a great composition. With Dudamel and his orchestra of young, inspired musicians the genius of Le Sacre is revealed so completely that I can only wish Stravinsky himself could have heard this recording. He would be amazed at his own genius. Pierre Monteux would at the same time jump for joy and weep if he could hear it. Bravo Mr. Dudamel and Bravissimo to your magnificent, inspired orchestra. The majesty and power of the Revueltas is a perfect match to the Stravinsky."Report Abuse