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Classic FM, November 2010

John Neschling transformed the Sao Paulo Symphony Orchestra into a world-class ensemble

Phillip Scott
Fanfare, November 2009

This DVD records the 2008 New Year’s concert from the São Paulo Orchestra under their then chief conductor and artistic director, John Neschling. A month later, Neschling’s contract (which had a further 12 months to run) was abruptly terminated by the orchestra’s governing board. Neschling has since been replaced by Yan Pascal Tortelier on a three-year contract. Whether the cracks were showing on this gala night is a matter of conjecture. In any case, the orchestra plays with the same tightness of ensemble and drive that distinguishes their CD recordings of Villa-Lobos, Guarnieri, and Mignone on the BIS label. (Indeed, their recording of the complete Villa-Lobos Choros made my 2009 Want List.)

Their “Malambo” is fun, but, as always, comparisons are odious. The Simón Bolivar Youth Orchestra of Venezuela under Dudamel easily trumps them for excitement in this piece. The Venezuelans even execute a “Mexican Wave” at the close, and smile more readily than the São Paulo musicians do. (The Venezuelans were about to lose their conductor as well, to Los Angeles.)

The São Paulo program is a mixture of short orchestral works and songs in popular Latin styles. Of the latter, the quirkiest is “Chiclete com banana,” a satire on the Latin influence in American popular music, referencing West Side Story, Glenn Miller’s Moonlight Serenade and so on. The quotations are heavy handed at times, but it’s cute nevertheless and well sung by Monica Salmaso. The most substantial piece is the Choros No. 10 for choir and orchestra, and this also gets the most dynamic performance.

Filming is detailed, with rather too much extreme close-up work on individual musicians in the orchestra. (At least they zoom in on the person who is actually playing the important line: not always the case with this technique.) Sound is clear and present, although I would have liked Salmaso’s voice more forward in the mix. The audience has a great time, clapping and whistling their approval of the Piazzolla, for example. The DVD contains a bonus interview with the conductor.

An unusual program makes this more than just your average New Year’s concert souvenir.

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4:47:59 AM, 27 April 2015
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