Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no.3 Eroica, op.55 [50:01]
The Creatures of Prometheus - Overture, op.43 [5:24]
Fidelio - Overture, op.72 [5:24]
King Stephen - Overture, op.117 [7:14]
Consecration of the House - Overture, op.124 [10:29]
London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt
rec. Abbey Road Studios, London. No date given. DDD
The booklet of this CD gives a link to a dedicated website - expired or not yet set up at the time of writing - for a "Masterworks of Giants" series. This release is the first of an intended complete cycle of Beethoven's symphonies in that series. It follows Chinese conductor Yondani Butt's recent recording of the Brahms symphonies, reviewed here.
In that review, the label is given simply as "Nimbus", but Nimbus Alliance ought really to be considered a separate entity, despite the fact that Nimbus itself is clearly involved. To quote the company that deals with its PR: "Nimbus Alliance is a new classical record label created to offer international distribution to recordings licensed to Nimbus Records but not originated by the company. Nimbus Alliance will consider projects from new artists trying to find a home for recordings they have made privately or from mature artists who find that their back catalogue is no longer available due to changing fashion or industry mergers." An almost complete discography of the Nimbus Alliance series, with links to reviews, can be found here.
What category the present release falls into is not entirely clear, but it is difficult to see how any full-price recording like this of Beethoven's Symphony no.3 can compete, without a big name conductor or huge advertising budget, in a market that resembles a Biblical mob scene, with perhaps 400 commercial recordings already available.
In its favour, on the other hand, can be counted the ever-reliable London Symphony Orchestra, the packed-to-the-rafters timing, and the fact that Yondani Butt, despite his low profile, has a lot of experience conducting major (and minor) orchestras and in making recordings, not to mention a good knowledge of the core symphonic repertoire. There are few works more core than Beethoven's magnificent 'Eroica'.
A comparison with other recordings would take a year, and ultimately prove pointless: some, perhaps many, will not take to this version mainly because it does not sound how they expect it to sound on the strength of familiar, favourite recordings or live performances. For those without preconceptions, newcomers to the Third Symphony in particular, there is certainly nothing here to dislike. Whilst there is no great personality in Butt's reading, neither is the result bland. He guides the LSO through an intelligent, relaxed, neutral account, even if the LSO at times sound more professional than passionate. The same can be said of the four overtures that follow, one of which, King Stephen (or Stephan) is a relative rarity in recordings of Beethoven.
The sound quality is very good, as one might expect, although to say there is little atmosphere would be an understatement - these are dry, almost academic recordings. On the bright side, at least there are no coughers or traffic rumbles.
The booklet is a bit 1980s in design, but supplies about the right amount of detail to suit both first-timers and those considering, however fleetingly, an umpteenth purchase. The notes do however begin by presenting as truth and whole truth the apocryphal story from Ferdinand Ries that Beethoven scratched out his dedication to Napoleon because he felt "betrayed". Some may also find it a bit of an annoyance that the date of recording is not given; when will some labels learn that most collectors really want to know the when? Finally, the picture on the front cover is one of those many of Beethoven disguised as someone else.
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Intelligent, relaxed, neutral, even if the LSO at times sound more professional than passionate.