Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphony No. 9
PERFORMER: Helena Juntunen (soprano), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Norman (tenor), Neal Davies (bass-baritone); Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale/Osmo Vänskä


From the very first bars of this new recording, with the music’s hushed sounds emerging as though from the void, we know we are in for an exceptional experience. As always, Vänskä’s attention to detail is meticulous, and the mysterious pianissimo playing he coaxes from the Minnesota Orchestra in these opening moments is spellbinding. But fine though the first movement is, Vänskä’s revisionist view of the work’s slow movement is even more striking. The piece is based on two strongly contrasted themes, one of them marked ‘Adagio molto’ and the other ‘Andante moderato’, and they’re normally played at markedly different speeds. But Beethoven’s metronome markings for the two alternating sections are virtually identical – 60 beats to the minute for the Adagio, 63 for the Andante – suggesting that the contrast is more one of character than tempo, and that the change in metre from four beats to three, and the introduction of more flowing semiquaver motion, ought in themselves to be sufficient. This is Vänskä’s approach, and it has the advantage of obviating the need to take the Adagio excessively slowly. No less impressive is the finale, with its ‘Turkish march’ section and attendant fugato having all the energy and drive they need, and the vast canvas of the piece as a whole unfolded with great clarity. Vänskä’s team of soloists is less strong than those assembled for, say, Rattle and the VPO or Abbado and the BPO; but when all’s said and done, the soloists’ contribution, although vital, is brief. Even more than Abbado’s fine version this is a Beethoven Ninth for our times. Misha Donat