Romeo and Juliet, The Tempest, Hamlet
Gustavo Dudamel, Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra
DG 477 9355

Shaky Shakespeare: hits and misses from Gustavo Dudamel.

This performance of Tchaikovsky’s music to Shakespeare’s The Tempest may well inspire the listener to exclaim “O brave new world that hath such people in it”, but I doubt whether the Romeo and Juliet Fantasy Overture would provoke a similar reaction in this surprisingly staid excursion by firebrand conductor Gustavo Dudamel. To take one example, the canonic exchanges between the lower woodwinds and the strings in the first fight sequence lack the needed tension.

The Tempest fares better. The exquisite evocation of the magic island and surrounding ocean is simply ravishing and well captured by Dudamel and co. Likewise the love music, initially “tender and restrained” (to quote the sleeve notes), gradually becomes almost incandescent – and certainly more dramatic than the equivalent scene in the play. Here the French horn sounds a little tentative but strings and woodwinds are alert and Dudamel certainly knows how to milk the climaxes. 

Unfortunately, the liner notes by Simon Callow are written from his perspective as an actor, which is hardly helpful to listeners unfamiliar with the work. I’ve left Hamlet until last because I think it’s the weakest of the three works here – the stormy rhetoric was better handled by Tchaikovsky in Francesca da Rimini.

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TCHAIKOVSKY: Hamlet; The Tempest; Romeo and Juliet (Simon Bolivar SO/Dudamel)
3.5 out of 5
Deutsche Grammophon
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