La Scena Musicale

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 2 & 7

Minnesota Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä
BIS SACD-1816 Hybrid SACD (75 min 49 s)
***** $$$$
It has been a banner year for collectors who aim to acquire fifty or more recorded cycles of the Nine. Boxed sets have been arriving steadily and most of them reflect an advanced level of Beethoven performance even if the interpretations seem to be increasingly generic. This is the concluding installment of the Minnesota cycle and it is plainly a cut above the rest. Instead of recording live concerts in rapid succession, BIS took the traditional route to excellence: rehearsal followed by concert performances and then into the studio. Symphonies Nos 2 and 7 come out sounding as fresh and vital as previous issues. All credit is due to Osmo Vänskä for taking the Bärenreiter Urtext Edition to heart while eschewing idiosyncratic stylistic trends. The result is fundamental Beethoven, never lacking in profundity and never neglecting the robust good humour of its creator. The orchestra deserves as much recognition. The playing is exemplary throughout but the ability to render perfect piano passages (as here) is something that is embedded in an ensemble’s musical DNA. There have been fine Beethoven cycles from New York (Bernstein/Sony), Cleveland (Szell/Sony) and Chicago (Solti/Decca) but taken as a whole, Minnesota can now claim the US national title on the basis of consistent inspiration, dedicated musicianship and the highest quality of recorded sound.

- Stephen Habington

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