Beethoven: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven Symphonies
WORKS: Symphony No. 4; Symphony No. 5
PERFORMER: Minnesota OrchestraOsmo Vänska
CATALOGUE NO: SACD 1416

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It’s only two years since Osmo Vänskä took over as music director of the Minnesota Orchestra, but on the evidence of this recording he has already fashioned it into a superbly responsive ensemble.

Immediately evident is the meticulousness with which he distinguishes between piano and pianissimo at one end of the dynamic scale, and forte and fortissimo at the other. Symphony No. 4’s slow introduction is admirably mysterious, and without a single spurious accent, so that the music seems to grope its way only gradually towards the light; while the scrupulous observation of Beethoven’s dynamic markings in the Fifth Symphony allows everything to fall into place with impeccable logic.

Interpretatively these are fairly traditional readings, and none the worse for that, though the third movement of No. 4 is noticeably slower than usual. Perhaps Vänskä is paying more attention to the ‘menuetto’ label found in some early sources than to Beethoven’s ‘Allegro molto e vivace’ tempo indication. If so, the performance fits in well with the Classical cut of the work as a whole; it also allows him to impart a graceful lilt to the trio section, which Beethoven wanted played a little slower than the remainder, without a jarring change in tempo.

Simon Rattle and the Vienna Philharmonic give an equally sparkling account of No. 4, and are superbly dramatic in No. 5. Abbado is also impressive in the Fifth, handling the transition between its last two movements with a fine sense of hushed tension, and allowing the Berlin Philharmonic’s trumpets ringing out thrillingly at the start of the finale.

But unlike Rattle and Vänskä, Abbado doesn’t have his first and second violins answering each other as they should from opposite sides of the platform; and – much more controversially – he restores the full reprise of the scherzo and trio that Beethoven decided at the last moment to delete from the score.

This recording, made in the fine acoustic of the Orchestra Hall at Minneapolis, sounds impressive in stereo, and even more vivid in full surround-sound. Anyone wanting Beethoven symphonies in state-ofthe-art sound should not hesitate.

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Benchmark Rattle VPO EMI 557 4452