Not my words, but Geoff Brown's in the Times
Jetted to stardom in his mid-twenties, with a post as conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic in the offing, Gustavo Dudamel doesn’t impress all the time. He’s best experienced live in concert, or at least on DVD. Even working with his amazing Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, as he is here, not all his passion and charisma carries over on to CD. Speeds can be reckless and his handling gauche, either through inexperience or lack of sympathy with his repertoire. Dudamel is a talent that needs careful handling.Youth really isn't a time of life, it is a state of mind.
So far, he’s not getting it. Deutsche Grammophon, his label, seems keen only on letting him fire the big guns, putting him in competition with history’s finest. His Beethoven release (Symphonies 5 and 7) had its disappointments; so, certainly, does this Mahler Five. This was the work that made Dudamel’s name internationally, when his conducting won him the 2004 Mahler Competition in Bamberg.
Yet as captured by the mikes in Caracas, this interpretation with his youth orchestra misses the bull’s eye. Though not at first. On the strength of the first two movements, Dudamel’s approach appears entirely plausible. Avoiding the “drama queen” style of Bernstein and others, he wrestles soberly with Mahler’s death and despair. The brass gleams; the strings surge with a uniform, slightly husky glow (a special feature of this recording). All good stuff — and, for young musicians with no Viennese traditions in their blood, the playing is quite idiomatic.
Trouble starts to overtake in the scherzo, which sits too heavily on the ears. The electricity isn’t switched on. Then comes the string adagietto, where neither musicians nor Dudamel seem sure how best to handle the music’s long ache or the portamento bowing. There are nervous lurches and heavy-handed dynamics. In the finale, virtues and vices maddeningly go hand in hand.
Only a heart of stone could be left unmoved by the strings’ swinging force in that fugal passage, early on. But the more the notes tumble out, the more dangerous Dudamel’s speeds appear. He doesn’t judge their relationships correctly, or, in the last pages, the music’s weight.
Mahler when he wrote this symphony was in his early forties, and already well knocked about by life. Dudamel conducts like a charmed young man in too much of a hurry.
Listen to Gustavo Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela in Sunday's (August 20) BBC Prom here. Any copyrighted material on these pages is included as "fair use", for the purpose of study, review or critical analysis only, and will be removed at the request of copyright owner(s). Report broken links, missing images and other errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk