Gustavo’s Symphony Of More Than A Thousand comes to DVD

Richard S. Ginell - From Out of the The WestBy Richard S. Ginell: From Out of the West

Gustavo Dudamel’s Mahler Project earlier this year is now in the history books, but it hasn’t disappeared from view, nor will it.  The first permanent artifact from that audacious, bicontinental adventure has emerged, a Deutsche Grammophon DVD (and Blu-ray) release containing the Mahler Eighth Symphony performance from Caracas on Feb. 18 (the Ninth Symphony was recorded in Los Angeles by DG for iTunes, but hasn’t been released yet – tentatively delayed until next year). This was the performance that was shown in the theatres, the one in which Gustavo one-upped the total of some 1,017 performers in the earlier Shrine Auditorium rendition with 1,400 in Caracas – now the world’s record for the piece.

So how does the Symphony Of More Than A Thousand – which was an overwhelmingly emotional experience in person in the Shrine, muffled acoustics and all – translate into the home? In some ways, the Caracas performance was even better than the L.A. one  – about three minutes slower in Caracas, with Dudamel now managing to make some expressive points here and there while still keeping it going in an unexaggerated straight-forward line, his gestures more subtle and to the point than we’ve often seen in Disney Hall.  The unanimity among the 1,000 or more Venezuelan voices, even the kids, is startling – and the combined Los Angeles Philharmonic and Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra follow their leader seamlessly.

The engineers have performed some kind of miracle in keeping 1,400 performers in balance most of the time; the organ no longer blots out everything in its path as in the Shrine, the choirs are in proper perspective, the only flaw is that the eight solo voices are often way too loud.  The camera shots of Dudamel facing rows and rows and rows of singers so numerous that they crowd out the screen have to be seen to be believed, and the end credits take the trouble to list every single name of every singer and player who participated – it takes eight minutes to scroll through it! What you don’t get in the home, no matter how high you turn the volume up, is the visceral wallop of being in the same room with 1,400 performers. Even so, this video – which also includes a short bonus film of rehearsal excerpts and pithy insight from the conductor – does preserve a performance that is a keeper.

Meanwhile, the other resident group in Disney Hall, the Los Angeles Master Chorale led by Grant Gershon, has another Decca release of new music out – a splendidly-recorded all-Henryk Górecki program.  The gorgeous, hitherto-unrecorded Lobgesang leads off the disc, highlighted by the Master Chorale impressively hushed pianissimo singing in its final pages, followed by the patiently building Miserere (said by Gershon to be a portrait of the Polish Solidarity movement in music gathering its strength), and the gentle, often folk-like Five Marian Songs.  This can’t be the easy way to make a mark in the big-time recording world – new, little-known, serious choral music sung a cappella  – but the Master Chorale doesn’t bat a collective eye, drawing us smoothly and fervently into Górecki’s meditative soundworld.