Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 "Eroica" (CD review)

Also, The Creatures of Prometheus; Fidelio; King Stephen; Consecration of the House.  Yondani Butt, London Symphony Orchestra. Nimbus Alliance NI 6144.

Is the world really waiting with bated breath for yet another recording of Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony? Well, actually, no, particularly when there is already a plethora of good recordings available from conductors like Otto Klemperer (EMI), Sir John Barbirolli (Dutton Lab), Karl Bohm (DG), Leonard Bernstein (Sony), Philippe Herreweghe (PentaTone), David Zinman (Arte Nova), Paavo Jarvi (Sony), Klaus Tennstedt (EMI), even a cheerfully bizarre one from Hermann Scherchen (HDTT). However, when we hear a new issue performed and recorded as well as Yondani Butt's version with the London Symphony, it might be enough for Beethoven fans to give it a try.

Butt moves along the leadoff Allegro con brio at a commendably energetic pace, "with brio," with vigor and vivacity as Beethoven marked the tempo. Maybe Butt just understands the chemistry of the music; after all, how many other conductors have a Ph.D. in chemistry as Maestro Butt has. Just as he will do throughout the symphony, Butt emphasizes the contrasts: fast and slow, loud and soft. It makes for an exciting opening segment.

The second-movement funeral march can often be the downfall of a conductor, taking it too sluggishly and losing strength or too quickly and losing gravitas. Butt falls somewhere in the middle. While Klemperer and Barbirolli could get away with slow tempos here by injecting them with vitality and a steady forward pace, Butt's speed seems at first a tad too hesitant and spongy. However, when he reaches the climax of the movement about three-quarters through, it is another monumental contrast, and it goes a long way toward selling what could have been too soft an approach.

The Scherzo has plenty of zip and skips happily along with its syncopated rhythms. Then, the spirit of the Scherzo leads unaffectedly into the equally vibrant Finale, which Butt treats quite triumphantly, yet with high good cheer, if also with a slight degree of calculation. No matter, as he ensures the work ends on a high note, figuratively speaking.

At the time of the Third Symphony's première in 1805, some critics complained about its excessive length. Today, we take such lengths for granted as normal, the symphony having had such an influential impact on music thereafter. Indeed, the symphony's length is rather modest by current standards, so much so that Nimbus Alliance are able to fit four Beethoven overtures on the disc as companion pieces.

The Creatures of Prometheus, Fidelio, King Stephen, and Consecration of the House come off well, with the customary vigorous refinement we have come to expect from Maestro Butt. I especially liked the thrilling vivaciousness of Fidelio and the inevitable contrasts, again, in King Stephen.

What a pleasure, too, listening to a new recording that a company didn't do live. This one Nimbus Alliance recorded at Abbey Road Studio 1 and released in 2011. Along with Symphonies Nos. 6 and 7, issued separately, they figure to be the start of a complete and welcome new Beethoven cycle.

Anyway, the sound is quite good, if perhaps a little more veiled than the much-older Klemperer and Barbirolli recordings I mentioned earlier. Nevertheless, without the direct comparison, I doubt that anyone would have any objections, the concern is so slight. More to the point, the Nimbus Alliance disc provides a wide dynamic range and a strong impact, with excellent timpani rolls; a smooth and well-extended frequency response, if a touch soft; a modest degree of orchestral depth; and a pleasant amount of reverberant bloom for a realistic hall ambience.

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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Readers with polite, courteous, helpful letters may send them to pucciojj@gmail.com.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa