How could any sane conductor make his recording debut leading Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies? More to the point, how could any sane record label let an almost unknown 24-year-old Venezuelan conductor make his recording debut leading Beethoven's Fifth and Seventh symphonies? No matter who he is, he'll inevitably be compared to everyone who's ever recorded the works from Arthur Nikisch to Arturo Toscanini, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Bruno Walter, Otto Klemperer, and hundreds of others. Who could stand up to that kind of competition?
Gustavo Dudamel, that's who. The man Claudio Abbado described as "one of the most gifted conductors I have had the pleasure to hear in recent years," creates performances of central works of the standard orchestral repertoire that can stand comparison with the very best ever recorded. With his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela, Dudamel leads performances of blinding clarity, blazing intensity, and blistering energy. All the details are firmly in place -- listen to the wind and brass crescendos in the Fifth's opening Allegro con brio or the layers of accompaniment in the Fifth's Andante con moto -- and all the colors are brilliantly realized -- listen to the oboe cadenza in the recapitulation of the Fifth's opening movement or the woodwinds' shading in the Seventh's introductory Poco sostenuto. But while these things are crucial to the performances' success, they pale before the bone-deep dedication of the musicians. A very young ensemble, the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra plays Beethoven with unbelievable enthusiasm, commitment, and individualism -- imagine the Clash playing Beethoven and you have some idea of what to expect. In DG's clear, clean if not overly warm sound, Dudamel and the Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra have given the world a pair of the finest Beethoven symphony recordings ever made, and anyone who loves music, life, and love is urged to hear them.