Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888) [52:08]
The Voyevoda – Symphonic Ballad, Op. 78 (1891) [11:19]
London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt
rec. 16, 19 November 2012, Abbey Road Studios, London.
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI 6217 [63:27]
I quite admired Yondani Butt’s Beethoven recordings (see review),
so was intrigued to hear what he would come up with in Tchaikovsky.
There are so many recordings of this and Tchaikovsky’s other symphonies
that making comparisons becomes a dizzying prospect. What I can guarantee
is that this is a very good recording and performance with no fluffs
or glitches – a highly professional production indeed.
With the Symphony No. 5 there are arguably two camps: the more
edgy ‘all-risk’ interpretation on one side, and the more comfortable
and expressive point of view as an opposite. These are appalling generalisations,
but with the first movement’s timing of 16:03 you can be reasonably
sure that Butt’s performance isn’t likely to be one which burns the
seat of your trousers. In some ways he is comparable with Antonio Pappano’s
EMI set, which is decidedly more on the lyrical than the dramatic side
The opening is nicely moody and atmospheric and plenty of animation
in the playing later on, but there are moments in the latter stages,
say from around the 13th minute, that he seems willing to
let the music almost stop entirely. Even with steady tempi his shaping
of the music’s architecture is sound enough. It may be more Bruckner
than Bach, but still sounds pretty good.
The second movement horn solo is good if a little androgynous, and you
realise that the string sound, while lush and full, is perhaps a little
on the dull side. I don’t think there’s any problem with the recording
in this regard, but rather a somewhat generalised approach to the texture
at those in-between points of greater relaxation. We’re not really ‘gripped’,
as if every player were committed to a particular colour in each and
every bar, as if they were playing in a string quartet. There is a Philips
recording with Valery Gergiev which illustrates this point (see review).
The strings aren’t always wringing every note dry for every drop of
emotion, but they are always moving towards something; with distinctive
shading and touches of detail which carry you forward even when the
music is receding. Gergiev’s Valse is about a minute shorter
than Butt’s, which is nice, but doesn’t really lift you out of your
seat into an imaginary ballroom. The Finale has a noble feel,
but by now the frustrations are outweighing the benefits – the opening
marking of Andante maestoso wallowing worryingly at times.
There is something to be said for broad tempi, but you don’t sense the
kind of vision which might make such an approach valid in this case.
Butt’s final movement is 14:18, so I had to reach for Sergio Celibidache’s
remarkable Munich recording which comes in at 14:19 (see review and
other comparisons here).
This may not be all things to all people, but with Celibidache you always
have the feeling of something brewing, a crackling atmosphere of anticipation
which I fear lacks with Butt.
As ever, the playing is always very fine, and things pick up later on
in the finale, with sharp dynamic contrasts and a degree of urgency
communicated. If you have become a fan of Yondani Butt’s recordings
and have doubts about adding this to your collection then don’t take
my word as the last on this performance. With my record shop hat on
I would always caution that other, perhaps more inspirational performances
are to be had, but at the same time this is still a very fine recording,
and if your listening demands are less obsessively picky and critical
than that of this seasoned old reviewer then you will undoubtedly find
a great deal to enjoy here.
The programme is filled out with The Voyevoda, a Symphonic
Ballad which shares a name but nothing else with Tchaikovsky’s opera
of the same name. This is a dramatic score with an equally dramatic
history, and it comes up sounding rather fresher than the symphony in
this recording, perhaps because of its relative lack of familiarity.
Interestingly, this includes the composer’s first use of the celesta
which adds a little extra sparkle but doesn’t otherwise have a huge
impact. Booklet notes are nicely written by Joanna Wyld, and we excuse
the occasional little typo which at one point includes a date of 1790.
Support us financially by purchasing
this disc through MusicWeb
for £12 postage paid world-wide.