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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]
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (1893) [49:20]
London Symphony Orchestra / Yondani Butt
rec. 2012, Abbey Road Studios, London
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI7104 [62:27 + 49:20]

These two Tchaikovsky symphonies from Yondani Butt have been released before. Here they are again coupled together in a bargain-priced two-CD set, so Nimbus offers good value for money. What we also have is a marvellous, natural orchestral recording from Abbey Road and, on the whole, some very fine playing by the ever-reliable LSO.

Symphony No. 5 is given a somewhat unusual reading. It is not erratic or self-indulgent but those who put drive, risk and fire at the top of the list probably will not warm to the performance. It is beautifully played, and clearly the orchestra sounds happy and relaxed as it sets about delivering some really lush textures. Maybe they found it refreshing not to be driven hard for the sake of pure virtuosity. The opening movement is very slow, coming in at around 16 minutes. At times it does tax your patience but one benefit is that you can take in the scenery instead of being rushed on your journey. The same applies to the glorious slow movement; at times there is the feeling that the music is beginning to drag despite the beautiful string tone and romanticism. The Valse is balletic and not in the least controversial. The finale lacks some forward thrust and the ending is just missing the fire I mentioned earlier. Does Butt’s vision of the symphony work? Well, I suppose it does. It is gently romantic rather than sparkling and gripping. At least it offers something different and there is plenty to enjoy. There a few moments where the ensemble comes slightly adrift (especially the woodwinds and strings) but these are fleeting occurrences. Maybe Butt was wallowing in the music and his beat had momentary lapses—that is how it sounds. After the last notes of the symphony have died away, The Voyevode immediately kicks in and the contrast with the symphony is startling. All of a sudden there is far more drive and urgency in the music-making. Lush textures give way to drama and that is entirely appropriate for such a dramatic work. This is one of the composer’s near-misses but the LSO turn in a very good performance.

Symphony No. 6 takes us back to Butt’s general preference for lush romanticism but, considering that we are talking about Tchaikovsky’s Sixth here, I do not see that as a problem. Butt’s tempi are admirably judged and there is more forward momentum in this recording. At no time does the music become bogged down and the central outburst in the first movement has plenty of drama. OK, the big tune may be slightly overdone but why not? As with the Fifth Symphony, Butt’s second movement 5/4 waltz has a simple balletic charm. The Allegro molto vivace is unhurried and playful, and the recording gives the woodwind plenty of space. The brass outbursts have great presence and bite. Butt generates some real excitement here, in stark contrast to his reading of the Fifth. The concluding Adagio lamentoso is one of the great movements in the 19th-century symphonic repertoire and a remarkable way for the composer to end the work. Butt scores high marks here. The tragic emotional outpourings he generates from the orchestra are both tangible and moving. As with the Fifth, there are fleeting moments of less than immaculate ensemble here and there but overall the performance is well worth hearing. In summary, this is an enjoyable albeit slightly controversial set.

John Whitmore



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