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Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64 (1888) [52:08]
The VoyevodaSymphonic Ballad, Op. 78 (1893) [11:19]
Symphony No. 6 in B minor, Op. 74 “Pathetique” (1893) [49:20]
London Symphony Orchestra/Yondani Butt
rec. 2012, Abbey Road Studios, London
NIMBUS ALLIANCE NI7104 [2 CDs: 112:47]

While this modest reissue goes up against plentiful and formidable competition in the repertory, it nevertheless has much going for it: not only does it offer the buyer two discs for the price of one budget CD, but it contains reasonably good performances and sound, and, as one of his last recordings, stands as testament to the underrated talents of the late Macau-born conductor Yondani Butt (1945-2014).

Butt never achieved front-rank status on the podium during his career, but here shows considerable insight and consistency in works that can be challenging for conductors to bring off. He draws excellent performances from the dependable London Symphony Orchestra. His readings of the symphonies are straightforward, not exhibiting any eccentricity or extremist tendencies, but featuring well-shaped phrasing, somewhat leisurely tempos (a little more so in the Fifth), and overall a centrist approach. Thus, the music is not seething with tension and churning emotions, but is a bit restrained without being tepid, aiming more toward subtlety and elegance.

The outer movements of the Fifth have an epic sense, while the second movement is beautifully phrased, its fabric more lush than gushing. A solid Fifth then, which for the most part sounds less bombastic than many other performances and is thus more convincing.

The Sixth has slightly more moderate tempos than the Fifth and seems more restrained in the first movement exposition. The alternate theme is phrased lovingly, the LSO strings displaying both great feeling and elegance. The development takes off with plenty of energy and maintains momentum throughout, and the return of the big theme is played with a fine sense of poignant sadness. The middle movements are well played, the second appropriately elegant and the third bustling and celebratory—and ultimately frustrating as the composer intended. The finale, its tempo a bit slower than usual, packs sufficient drama to convey effectively a sense of farewell and surrender.

Unlike the symphonies, the Voyevoda is briskly paced and comes across as an exciting work, if still not top-drawer Tchaikovsky. The LSO is in fine form again for Butt and this effort makes a fine filler. While you can find more impassioned or dramatic versions of the symphonies by Abbado, Gergiev, Karajan and others, these accounts are solid and finely imagined, and never sound irritating like the bloated, over-the-top Bernstein effort of the Sixth with the NY Phil on DG or, at the other end, some of the poker-faced performances many modern conductors have turned out. The sound is reasonably good and fairly detailed, but can be a little boomy in the bass regions at times. Good efforts all around then and a steal as a bargain offering.

Robert Cummings

Previous review: John Whitmore


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