ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

Conductor Gustavo Dudamel has electrified the classical music world with his dynamic live performances. And this month, along with the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela, Dudamel released a CD. It's called "Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare." It consists of new interpretations of three works inspired by Shakespeare: "Romeo and Juliet," "Hamlet" and "The Tempest."

Music reviewer Tom Manoff has given it a listen, and while he says all the performances are first-rate, he was most intrigued by Dudamel's version of "The Tempest."

TOM MANOFF: Gustavo Dudamel is such a charismatic conductor in person that when listening to his recordings, I find it difficult not to see him in my mind. So I listened to this CD while following the musical score in order to make an accurate assessment of his performance.

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MANOFF: Tchaikovsky was brilliant at portraying scenes and characters with an orchestra, and "The Tempest" is amazing as a drama expressed through music. Set on a far-off island, we hear the motion of the sea as rising and falling patterns in the strings. Prospero the magician stalks the island as an ominous theme in horns, and Whitecaps skip across the waves as short bursts from the woodwinds.

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MANOFF: Dudamel has very clear ideas about how his orchestra should sound in these portrayals, both as textures and phrasings. Here's Ariel, the shape-shifting spirit of the air, in the higher regions of the orchestra. And then we'll meet Caliban, growling and grotesque in the lower strings.

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MANOFF: Sometimes, there's more grit than cream in the sound of this Venezuelan orchestra, giving it an earthiness associated with many Russian orchestras, and it really works in some sections of Tchaikovsky. By contrast, here's the smooth string sound representing the lovers of the drama.

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MANOFF: Music historians have always considered "The Tempest" second-rate Tchaikovsky. But great conductors reveal fresh ways to listen to a work they believe in, and Dudamel's vivid and emotionally rewarding interpretation has opened my ears to the genius of this piece.

The proof was in what I imagined as I listened: Dudamel disappeared and the musical notes, too, all replaced by lovers, monsters and spirits on an island in the sea.

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SIEGEL: Our critic is Tom Manoff. The CD is "Tchaikovsky and Shakespeare" by Gustavo Dudamel and the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra. You can hear more of the CD at our website, nprmusic.org.

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