Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1770-1827)
Symphony no.6 Pastoral, op.68 (1808) [40:48]
Symphony no.7, op.92 (1812) [36:33]
London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt
rec. Air Studios, London, 13-14 October 2010
Following on from the Symphony No.3 release we can read about elsewhere (see review), this recording of the Pastoral and the Symphony no.7 is one which has brought a smile to my face. Yes, there will be the usual arguments about ‘do we need more of?’ and ‘does this compete with?’, but as ‘Byzantion’ pointed out, a review filled with comparisons could become a somewhat tedious exercise. Apparently, someone thinks this cycle has enough ‘oomph’ to occupy a justifiable place in the catalogue, and so all I feel the need to do is agree or disagree.
What I liked about this recording from the outset is the light touch with which Yondani Butt uses his instrument, the formidable London Symphony Orchestra. The Symphony no.6 is I admit relatively light by its very nature, but even where dynamics can legitimately be pushed Butt gives the sense of more in reserve, and maintains a fine feel of transparency. Melodies are nicely shaped and phrased, and the weighting of harmonies and orchestral tone colours is all well judged. The second movement Andante molto mosso is nicely muted and hazily atmospheric, and the gentle touch carries through into the following Allegro. There is a good energy in the dance sections, though the repetitions can be a bit samey and the feeling of forward momentum therefore perhaps not quite at optimum. The storm scene has some healthy drum thwacks, and the piccolo is nicely audible though not overbearingly so. The civilised nature of this reading as a whole makes the arrival of that wonderful final tune in the Allegretto perhaps a little less than wholly filled with relief and gratitude, but it is still superbly played and is uplifting as it should be.
Pairing 6 and 7 together works well on one CD, the Symphony no.7 being dramatic in entirely different ways to the Pastoral. Again, Yondani Butt generates a fine sonority from the orchestra, and controls Beethoven’s pithy and extensive musical canvas very well indeed. The funereal Allegretto is suitably dark, but not disproportionately theatrical. For all his lightness of touch, Butt whips up plenty of dancing rhythmic power in the Presto, and there are delightful and witty touches all over the place. There’s certainly no lack in detail from the recording or the playing, so this release can certainly be counted excellent for study purposes. The final Allegro con brio is by no means slacking, but the point about repetitions made earlier makes it less inspiring than some of the other movements. All of the ingredients are present, but there is little sense of each repetition of a phrase serving the cause of actual development. As a result, the excitement generated is rather low key. This might be said of the recording as a whole, but I also feel this would be unfair to interpretations which appear to seek the ‘authentic’ Beethoven in modern playing – revolutionary enough, without trying to over-romanticise.
The booklet notes are thorough, and the recording for this release is very good – the Air Studios perhaps a bit more sympathetic in terms of acoustic to Abbey Road for the first volume in this cycle. There’s a funny exclamation from the conductor at 5:42 in the first movement of the Symphony no.7, but production values are otherwise very high for this release. These recordings don’t knock the best of the classic versions from their elevated perches, but, a bit like an earlier cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Wyn Morris and released on IMP Classics, I can see this developing as something of a ‘sleeper’.
Dominy Clements
Very nice: unfussy and clear.