Beethoven: Symphonies Nos 1 & 6

COMPOSERS: Beethoven
ALBUM TITLE: Beethoven
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 6
PERFORMER: Minnesota Orchestra/Osmo Vänskä
Osmo Vänskä’s Beethoven cycle has been a supremely accomplished series, and this penultimate instalment is scarcely less impressive than its predecessors. Vänskä offers a glowing performance of thePastoral, its opening movement – so often treated over-reverentially – vividly conveying the town-dweller’s feelings of joy on arriving in the countryside. The approach of the summer storm is splendidly handled, too (as always, Vänskä’s pianissimo is strikingly effective), and the finale is as resplendent as could be wished. >In the youthful Symphony No. 1 it’s possible to feel that Vänskä takes the ‘minuet’ heading of the third movement too much to heart. The piece is actually a scherzo in all but name (the tempo marking is Allegro molto e vivace), and it can live more dangerously. And no doubt Vänskä’s omission of the repeats in the da capo, following the trio, is entirely consistent with his approach elsewhere in the cycle, but the first section – a mere eight bars – is over in a flash, and the music sounds curiously lop-sided when it’s only played once through. Even in Toscanini’s day that repeat used to be taken, and many more recent conductors – Abbado, Rattle and Mackerras, for instance – actually observe both repeats in the da capo. Abbado strikes me as ideal in both symphonies, with the brook of the Pastoral’s slow movement flowing just a little more gently and evenly than it does in Vänskä’s hands. But this new disc gives a great deal of pleasure, too.