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Paul BÜTTNER (1870-1943) Heroic Overture (1925) [14:07]
Symphony No. 4 in B minor (1918) [40:59]
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra/Gerhard Pflüger, Hans-Peter Frank (overture)
rec. 1965 (symphony), 1974 (overture), details of location not supplied STERLING CDS10482 [55:50]
Dresdener Paul Büttner is another in Sterling's sequence of northern European Romantics whose name was completely unknown to me. Checking on Presto and ArkivMusic revealed that this is the only recording of his music currently available, so I don’t feel too bad about my ignorance of his existence.
He studied composition with Felix Draeseke at the Dresden conservatory. He also taught there for a long time, finishing as artistic director, before his opposition to the Nazis led to his removal in 1933. He wrote widely across the musical spectrum, and conductors such as Arthur Nikisch and Fritz Reiner included his works in their concerts.
This background was very encouraging, but alas, I found these two works rather uninspiring. Certainly, they are pleasant enough, the overture appropriately grand, the symphony intermittently stirring and melodic but each overstays its welcome, running out of steam well before the end. The overture, despite being written later, is a melange of Schumann and Brahms. As for the symphony, it is a far superior work, which shows a strong Brucknerian influence, but also that of Wagner, especially in the finale. This movement perhaps best illustrates the problems I had with these works. Drop in at any point and listen for thirty seconds, and you will hear a familiar voice, be it Wagner, Bruckner, even Beethoven. Where is Büttner’s voice among all this? This was his final symphony, and given that it was written mid-career, one might expect that it should be his best effort in the genre. If that be so, then it doesn’t raise much expectation for the first three.
Performances are, at the very least, adequate and in the case of the symphony, much better than that. Recording quality is likewise serviceable, but hardly the last word in clarity, although the densely orchestrated works themselves would have contributed to that. The booklet notes are as thorough as one could expect for such an obscure name.
Aficionados of the unsung composer will doubtless see this as a desirable release, but as so often is the case, there is a good reason why the composer has been forgotten.