Hot Venezuelan conductor Gustavo Dudamel has renamed his Simón Bolívar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela simply as the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. This may somewhat diminish the "Waiting for Superman" aspect of Dudamel's celebrity, but the good news is that this disc delivers just what's needed in establishing him as a worthwhile star over the long term. The Tchaikovsky & Shakespeare album reproduces the program of a widely advertised and rebroadcast concert Dudamel conducted with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, recruiting Hollywood stars to read relevant passages from Hamlet, The Tempest, and Romeo and Juliet. The studio recording may be the superior idea, for Tchaikovsky's works, with the exception of the perennially crowd-pleasing Romeo and Juliet, are only loosely programmatic, and the orchestra's young musicians, products of the famed Venezuelan music education program known as El Sistema, acquit themselves admirably. Indeed, the strength of the performances lies in the orchestral playing: the bronze glow of the low strings in the comparatively rare Hamlet, the scintillating brasses and big themes of The Tempest. Dudamel somewhat tamps down the overdoses of sheer sentiment in Romeo and Juliet, which many listeners will find all to the good. What this release shows is that, whether he's Superman or not, Dudamel is shifting the center of excitement in the symphonic scene of the Americas definitely westward and southward. Fine booklet notes by Simon Callow are given in English and Spanish, and the unfamiliar Centro de Acción por la Música concert hall in Caracas clearly showcases the musicians.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim