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Pyotr Il’yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 (1893) [49:23]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Overture to Manfred, Op.115 (1848) [13:20]
London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt
rec. 16, 19 November 2012, Abbey Road Studios, London.

I became acquainted with Yondani Butt’s Tchaikovsky through his Symphony No 5 (see review), and while some of my remarks may not have implied huge affection for that recording I now find myself coming back for more. Either someone has forgotten to re-type the back sleeve of this release or that was a pretty intensive two days in Abbey Road, with this Symphony No. 6 apparently having been recorded in the same sessions as the Fifth. Such feats are by no means impossible, but some rather vague ensemble amongst the strings in parts of the first movement and elsewhere may or may not indicate fatigue.
There are innumerable versions of this great symphony available, and finding an absolute best is a real challenge. I still have a great deal of time for Antonio Pappano’s EMI recording of Tchaikovsky’s last three symphonies (see review), and while his more lyrical view of the Symphony No. 6 won’t do it for everyone there is a sense of grand design in Pappano’s performances, some of which involves holding back on intensity in order to make all the greater impact at climaxes. The St Cecilia orchestra has a roomier acoustic which helps things along, and the strings are indeed better disciplined. Pappano does do quite a bit of moaning on the podium which can be mildly disturbing, but this Sixth Symphony is always an event and demands hearing all the way though.
Butt does nice work with the Allegro con gracia second movement, which has plenty of ballroom ease and grace. With ensemble being an issue in the first movement I was a bit concerned about the Allegro molto vivace, but everything is held together well enough and the brass plays with rich sonority. The timpani are a bit massive in the recorded mix, but this is all good stuff. This is a movement whose conclusion you want bringing the audience to its feet in premature ecstasies of applause, and Butt whips a suitably climactic storm. It is of course the final Adagio lamentoso which we’ve all been waiting for however, and this performance has plenty of tear-jerking tragedy, Butt wringing the emotion from the score with some magical moments. He builds magnificently over the first five minutes or so, and digs plenty deep enough for us to feel Tchaikovsky’s suffering soul reaching out to us. The basses are satisfyingly present with the pedal tone in the final minutes, laying that carpet on which we must tread so very softly.
One day someone will explain to me why overtures are so often put after symphonies on CD programmes, and such is the case here. Schumann’s Manfred overture is given a good performance here, perhaps without quite the fizz of Georges Szell’s classic Cleveland recording (see review), and with over two minutes extra in timing not quite equalling Szell’s keen sense of direction. Butt doesn’t wallow however, and as with the Tchaikovsky he digs out plenty of detail and emotional punch.
The London Symphony Orchestra is a reliably good band, and this is a fine recording of two magnificent romantic masterpieces. This Tchaikovsky Symphony No. 6 doesn’t topple my favourites but is by no means a weak performance. A few ounces more accuracy in the strings here and there and I would have certainly rated its gritty emotion and honesty of expression high enough to compete with Pappano.
Dominy Clements