Recorded in late 2011, the 2012 release of Beethoven’s Fourth
and Fifth Symphony with Yondani Butt conducting the London Symphony
Orchestra is the latest installment in a new cycle of the composer’s
Butt’s ability to convey Beethoven’s style is apparent in this
recording, which juxtaposes two directions in the composer’s
efforts. The classical affinities emerge in the Fourth Symphony
through Butt’s attention to motoric rhythms and regular phrasing.
The structure of the first movement is evident in the presentation
of the introduction, and the clear-cut approach to the exposition.
Here the orchestral balances support the content well, with
the timbre audibly differentiated. This detail is the result
of the solid engineering by Nimbus in successfully rendering
the sound of the London Symphony. With the second movement,
the introductory passage is nicely understated, so that its
insistent reiteration at the conclusion of the first period
makes musical sense. The accompanying figures play a strong
role in this movement, and Butt allows them to sound as if he
were playing the piece at a keyboard. The Scherzo is energetic
from the start, with the momentum apparent in the clean entrances
and crisp phrasing. The inner voices of the string sections
are nicely textured, a quality that finds excellent expression
at the beginning of the Finale. Butt gives an unflagging performance,
which has the sense of being made in a single take. This is
a solid interpretation of Beethoven’s Fourth Symphony, which
shows well the tight ensemble of the London Symphony.
The challenge of pairing this with the Fifth Symphony is distinguishing
the works stylistically. Butt is convincing in this regard.
Without overemphasizing the famous four-note theme, Butt allows
the idea to infuse the first movement, with Butt’s broadening
of tempos matching well with his overall conception of the piece.
The clear, articulations of the woodwinds reinforce the masterful
string playing. At the same time, the brass fit nicely into
the orchestral palette with grace. While some modern orchestras
may allow the brass to overbalance in this movement, the controlled
sound in this recording is welcome in terms of clarity and style.
The second movement offers a welcome contrast through its implicit
lyricism. The orchestral outbursts emerge readily in engineering,
which captures the fullness of the sound and also the solo voices
that Beethoven uses to contrast them. Effective as this movement
is, the woodwind passages at the end of the movement sometimes
seem overly extended. This is a minor quibble in an otherwise
fine performance. Butt’s Scherzo is relatively restrained, a
quality which allows the sonorities to resonate. At the same
time, the acoustic of the
studio is useful, too, in supporting the contrapuntal textures
that the London Symphony perform so well. Butt sets up the triumphant
concluding section by sustaining the section that precedes it
with chamber-music textures. The tuttis are warmly resonant,
with intensity apparent in the rounded sounds of the horns and
full-bodied string colors.
These are solid performances, which offer interpretations of
these familiar works with an excellent modern orchestra. Butt
achieves fine effects without using period instruments. Rather,
Butt’s interpretations belong to the performing tradition which
keeps these works with the repertoire performed by modern symphony
orchestras. With such lively interpretations as these, the music
reflects the continuous tradition that exists for Beethoven’s
James L Zychowicz