TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32.
Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra of Venezuela/Gustavo Dudamel, cond.
DGG B0012763 (F) TT: 73:45

DVORÁK: Symphony No. 7 in d minor, Op. 70. SMETANA: The Moldau. SCHUBERT: Symphony No. 8 in B minor "Unfinished." BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 7 in A, Op. 92. WAGNER: Prelude and Liebestod from Tristan and Isolde. MAHLER: Symphony No. 1 in D "Titan." STRAUSS: Death and Transfiguration, Op. 24. DEBUSSY: La Mer. BARTÓK: Concerto for Orchestra. TCHAIKOVSKY: Francesca da Rimini, Op. 32. (all with Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra). BRAHMS: Symphony No. 3 in F, Op. 90. RAVEL: Mother Goose Ballet. (all with Boston Symphony Orchestra). LISZT: Festklänge. STRAVINSKY: The Rite of Spring. SHOSTAKOVICH: Symphony No. 10 in E minor, Op. 93 (all with London Philharmonic Orchestra). BRUCKNER: Symphony No. 3 in D minor (Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra). STRAVINSKY: Scherzo á la russe (Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra).
DECCA 478 1429 (7 disks) (B)

TCHAIKOVSKY: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64. Capriccio italien, Op. 45. 1812 Festival Overture, Op. 49
Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orch/Paul van Kempen, cond.
PHILIPS 420858 (M) (F) TT: 57 min.

Deutsche Grammophon has something very special, a recording contract with dynamic young conductor Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolivár Youth Orchestra. This is the orchestra's 4th CD. The first was a coupling of Beethoven's Symphonies 5 and 7 (REVIEW), the second, Mahler's Symphony No. 5 which I have not heard, and the third called Fiesta (REVIEW). Unfortunately, audio engineers involved in recordings thus far issued have not done their task well. Audio for the Beethoven was adequate, but little more, and Fiesta offered a diffuse sonic picture with little impact. These new Tchaikovsky performances were recorded in Caracas in January 2008, listed as live performances, but only Francesca has applause.Unfortunately, we have severe audio problems with the symphony. Bass is undefined, French horns too far back, and there is a lack of clarity and impact, particularly in percussion. For whatever reason, Francesca has excellent sound—it's unfortunate the symphony isn't as well recorded. Dudamel's performances of these Tchaikovsky works are magnificent! The Venezuelan Youth Orchestra contains more than 190 players—they are identified in CD notes—although it isn't clarified how many of them are heard in these performances, but surely most of them are. The orchestra is HUGE, and what a pleasure it is to hear all those strings digging into Tchaikovsky's rich scoring.They play with total virtuosity and it is to their credit that they can perfectly execute the young conductor's intense approach to both scores. Nothing is missing in these vibrant, dynamic performances. The symphony's second movement is serenely beautiful, with the horn solo played by the orchestra's second principal. In spite of inferior sound, one can still appreciate the electrifying performance of this familiar symphony. This recording of Francesca is dedicated to Maestro José Antonio Abreu who founded the orchestra in 1976. Abreu's video tape of this music was an inspiration to Dudamel. Francesca, recorded live, is in another league sonically—we can really hear the splendid orchestral sounds. This disk offers an exciting new look at these warhorses, an intriguing chapter in Dudamel's recording career. Let us hope future releases will have engineering that fully captures the orchestra's sound. And if you'd like to hear that, try to find a copy of the orchestra's BBC Proms performance of two years ago (yet to be issued commercially), or their performance of Beethoven's Eroica from the Bonn Festival on DVD (REVIEW).

As an 80th Birthday tribute to Bernard Haitink, Decca has lovingly gathered together many of of his finest recordings made for various labels, the earliest 1959, the latest 1995. All 7 CDs are filled to maximum, and the price is budget. Invariably Haitink is at his best in live performances—check out his superb live Mahler symphonies available on DVD (REVIEW) and the set of live recordings issued a year ago (REVIEW). These show an involvement with the music usually not heard in his cautious studio recordings. Audio quality varies on the new compilation, from the magnificent (La Mer), to the dismal (the Liszt symphonic poem and Stravinsky Rite), both with London Philharmonic. The LPO recordings were anemic sounding when originally issued—dry, unresonant, totally lacking in low bass, and this latest issue doesn't improve them. There are no program notes, but we do have a three-page article on Haitink's career, in three languages. This set comes in a cardboard box, with each of the seven disks in its own unlabelled envelope.

Paul van Kempen's Tchaikovsky recordings with the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra were made in 1951: 1812, January 16; Symphony 6/Marche slave, May 1951; Romeo and Juliet, July 17-18; Capriccio italien, Symphony 5, in December. All are remarkable performances with the mighty Concertgebouw in full stride. This is perhaps the finest Capriccio italien ever recorded, and all of the others are surely among the best. Unfortunately in Symphony No. 5 Van Kempen makes a rather large cut in the finale, but he does add two cymbal crashes at the climax of the final movement, and they are highly effective. You will be surprised to hear these, but I imagine that you will find them of keen interest—and miss them in other performances. They seem to belong and, unfortunately, no other conductor has made this effective change—except for Willem Mengelberg, who in his 1928 Columbia recording adds one cymbal. All of these VanKempen recordings have excessive bass and overly-bright high frequencies. At the end of Capriccio there is distortion that seems to be on the original recording. All of these recordings were released in 1993 in a 3-disk set (Philips 438 310) that also contained Kempen's other Tchaikovsky recordings with the Lamoureux Orchestra. It's admirable that ArkivMusic has resurrected the Philips CD containing items above—and let us hope they will also reissue the other disk that contains Symphony No. 6 and Romeo and Juliet—and add to it the stunning Marche slave which could easily fit, and was only included in the 3-disk set. This are important recordings for the collector.

R.E.B. (March 2009)