> BUTTNER Symphony 4 [RB]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Paul BÜTTNER (1870-1943)
Heroic Overture (1925) [14.07]
Symphony No. 4 (1917-19) [40.59]
Berlin Radio SO/Hans-Peter Frank (overture) and Gerhard Pflüger (symphony)
Rec ADD 1974 (overture); 26 June 1965 (symphony). ADD
Deutscher Romantiker series - vol. 3
STERLING CDS-1048-2 [55.50]


Paul Büttner was born in Dresden on 10 December 1870. Information on him is not easy to come by. I have not checked the current or even the 1980 Grove but Grove V had nothing on him at all. The extensive notes compiled for this release by the redoubtable Per Skans (usually associated with Olympia, especially their incomparable Miaskovsky series, and Bis) function as a very generous alternative reference.

Checking my old and admirable ‘A Dictionary of Modern Music and Musicians’ (J.M. Dent 1924) I can supplement what Mr Skans has written. Büttner was a pupil of Draeseke in Dresden. He taught there between 1896 and 1907. He was also active as a music critic in Dresden. The Munich-based, Alfred Einstein’s entry in the dictionary says: ‘as a symphonist, has been somewhat influenced by Anton Bruckner.’ The entry lists four symphonies but does not give dates for them. They are No. 1 in F (1899); No. 2 in G; No. 3 in D flat major (said by Herr Einstein to his best-known work … at least in 1924) and No. 4 in B minor. There are various symphonic phantasies, an overture to Napoleon’s Tomb, Saturnalia for drums and wind instruments, a violin sonata, a string quartet in G minor, male choruses and two operas: Anka and Das Wunder der Isis.

As a staunchly anti-Nazi Social Democrat he was driven from his post of artistic director of the Dresden Conservatoire in 1933 and survived giving private music tuition and taking refuge in composition. After the end of the war his name was given fitful life by the conductors Joseph Keilberth, Heinz Bongartz and Kurt Masur. His works are published by Edition Peters in Leipzig.

The present recordings despite being declared on the insert as DDD date from 1974 and 1965 and must accordingly be ADD. They sound perfectly respectable, not especially refined. They have a rugged ferocity that complements both pieces. The Heroic Overture (premiered in 1927) is not short of gallopingly energetic music redolent at one moment of Brahms’ Fourth Symphony, at another of Schumann and at another of Mendelssohn though always rather brooding. Its peroration - a grand gesture, half groan, half blare, impresses. It does not convince structurally tending to ramble but its incidents are often of commanding dramatic moment and the soloistic use of the brass is cleverly brought off.

The Fourth Symphony (a work largely written during the Great War) is in four movements. This is no time-serving performance. Although the grip does slacken in the last two movements overall this is a recording that has me wondering whether this was just a good day for Pflüger or whether we have a seriously neglected conductor here. The playing and sense of engagement is palpable, fiery with the sort of torrential conviction we find in Carlos Kleiber’s Beethoven 5 or Mravinsky’s Sibelius 7. The orchestra was in much superior form in 1965 than in 1974. As one illustration try the final fine satin tone of the violins from 12.00 to the close of the first movement, the Straussian yearning of the second movement. Hiss is thankfully left intact is a minuscule and forgettable ‘price’ to pay.

The four movements run the gamut: flourishing confidence and panache (3.18 I), Elgarian sweep (9.02 I), bubbling, brooding, deep Brucknerian string-writing, dense sombre hymnal rising to raucous brassy climaxes decaying away into nobility (III), sweetly mysterious harp writing (8.22 III) and ending with Brucknerian storm-clouds and a joyous desperation. The second movement is like a cross between Beethoven 7 and Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique: a witches Sabbat.

Büttner was, on this evidence, a composer in the Bruckner-Schumann vein rather like Wetz but with a fantastic tendency fuelled by Berlioz and Richard Strauss. He would I am sure have been delighted with these recordings. I doubt that he heard a more passionate performance of the Fourth Symphony during his lifetime. Recommended to pursuers of the late-romantic trend as it made its way into the twentieth century.

Rob Barnett


Richard WETZ Symphony No. 3
Berlin SO/Erich Peter
Norbert BURGMÜLLER Symphony No. 1
Hugo STAEHLE Symphony No. 1
Orchester der Staatstheater Kassel/Marc Piollet
Full details: www.sterlingcd.com

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