‘Wunderkind’ Gustavo Dudamel is still wonderful but not so young anymore. After his meteoric rise, he now actually receives critical notices. There was a time that he was treated as the musical Second Coming.
Now, he’s expected to produce the same excitement he conjured in his early concerts with the Simon Bolivar Orchestra of his native Venezuela. After early connections with La Scala and Gothenburg, Dudamel now guests with regularly with Berlin and Vienna. They don’t need the money or the associated press. As such, he must compete with the very best conductors and produce unique things with the best orchestras.
Interestingly, the Los Angeles Philharmonic has not been among the elite. But, after I watched the 60 Minutes piece on how the orchestra courted Dudamel, who could say no? True, Dudamel’s predecessor, Esa Pekka Salonen (now in rainy London with The Philharmonia Orchestra) improved Los Angeles’ lot by hiring well. Dudamel is continuing the trend by hiring (poaching!) some of the very best players including from the Philadelphia Orchestra, Chicago Symphony and the Berlin Philharmonic. It can’t only be the sun and beaches that convince these fantastic players to decamp. And, from the sound and musicality the orchestra produces in this fabulous new DGG recording, it’s not.
The orchestra is in very fine form from lowest basses, percussion, winds to highest strings. Mahler’s greatest symphony is demanding on so many levels. Technically, it’s not all that difficult (it is for the conductor), but the minute changes in direction, emphasis, and dynamics Mahler expects, are only successful when conductor, orchestra and engineer are all pulling in the same direction. All this under the weighty arc of the last great symphony of the German/Austrian symphonic tradition.
Comparison with the greatest recordings of this work is relevant. I would include Bruno Walter, Karajan’s 2 DGG (one studio, the other live), and Solti’s LSO on Decca. Would Dudamel supplant any of these? No, but I’ll play this recording in rotation with them. It’s that good.
Dudamel takes great care with the inner string lines (the opening sextuplets are perfect) and balances the winds beautifully. Tempos are pretty standard, but Dudamel, like many others, takes the recap of the 2nd movement Ländler too fast so the horn sixteenth runs sound silly (and inarticulate). However, Mahler’s markings of ‘clumsy and course’ are followed by the orchestra. Very countryside. Brilliant!
The sublime Adagio is given a suitably heartbreaking reading. Here, Dudamel almost matches the intensity from Karajan’s live Berlin Festival recording — my favourite. And yes, I’ve heard both Bernstein recordings.
For audiophiles, look no further. You’ll be getting a great performance in the very best sound. Mahler uses the bass drum very effectively in this piece. You’re going to love it!
A quick mention of the viola section, whose leader came to L.A. after two years as Principal Viola of the Berlin Philharmonic under Sir Simon Rattle. I’ve never heard the opening of the first movement and the tragic ending of the Adagio played so beautifully and under complete control. Once again, the Dude has hired well.
Symphony No. 9
Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra
2 CDs / Download 0289 479 0924 8
Int. Release 25 Jan. 2013 (Live recording)