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Reviews: Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5 - Vänskä

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Reviews: 6

Review by Chris February 20, 2005 (17 of 17 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This disc makes an exiting start indeed, for BIS's first Beethoven symphony series.
Not only is the recording very good indeed.But that is almost a given with this label.
Their recordings rarely disappoint from a technical point of view.
Also the interpretation by the Minnesota orchestra under Maestro Vänskä is on the very highest level.
The main work here for most listeners, is of course the fifth,which gets a reading that compares favourably with some of the best before the public IMO.

This is admittedly a somewhat leaner Beethoven than at least I'm used to. (I have never cared much for the scrawny, out of tune, authentic bands of Norrington and the likes of him)But Vänskä and his orchestra strike a good balance between old style "romantic" Beethoven conductors like Walter, Klemperer,Karajan and Kleiber and the sometimes misguided authentic lobby.
All my comparisons are of the old school of Beethoven interpretation
I must admit that I haven't heard Rattle's recent series at all.I don't buy RBCDs.

But Vänskä's fifth is superb by any standard.Although also very good, the fourth is IMO, not quite as balanced and beautiful as Karajan's 62 version also available on SACD.Karajan allows every phrase, every note its full value and the beauty of the playing the Berliners deliver is unrivalled I think.
There is, at least for me, nothing wrong as such, with beautiful playing even in a Beethoven symphony.

Though not quite in the same class as the Berliners under Karajan,the Minnesota orchestra plays really well with lots of precision, fire and energy.And there is a wonderful forward thrust and pulse kept throughout the whole symphony.
I know that it isn't "politically correct" to like Karajan's records these days .But there is no getting around the fact that he had one of the best orchestras the world has ever known at his disposal and he also knew his Beethoven better than most other conductors.
And although the BIS SACD is very good indeed technically, the old analogue transfers from the early sixties aren't that far behind.
I haven't heard the Kleiber in its SACD version.But the LP sound is not very good.Both in 62 and 1977 Karajan got better recordings from DGG.

In some respects I even prefer the more open and spacious acoustic of the Jesus Christus church in Berlin to the somewhat dry ,but again, very clear and clean Minnesota hall.Bis's recordings from both Bergen and Gothenburg have more ambience than this new disc
Where the new recording of course scores clearly over the older DGG is in its dynamic range and cleaner string sound.
Another reviewer obviously complained about excessive dynamics on this disc! For me the realistic dynamic range, is one of the true glories of the many excellent recordings BIS keeps releasing.
All in all, highly recommended!

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Review by mwagner1962 May 10, 2005 (6 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Over the years I have amassed various recordings of Beethoven symphonies, with Solti, Barenboim, Karajan, etc at the helm. These recordings have come and gone as my redbook library fluctuates. I always liked Karajan's Beethoven (earlier cycles) but as I am not a DG fan, these recordings never stuck around.

As I have started collecting SACD's, I started to see what was out there in regards to Beethoven symphonies, and especially if there were any complete cycles. Well, I think I saw a PentaTone set with Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, but as it was a complete set, I was not going to take a chance in case it was not good.

Well, I see that BIS (a label I am very fond of) has released a new recording of Beethoven's 4th and 5th Symphonies, ith the Minnesota, an orchestra I am also fond of because of my many Reference Recording redbook CDs.

Needless to say, I am very impressed with Maestro Vanska's first Beethoven with the MSO. I like his interpretation and pacing of the works, and he gets a good feel from the orchestra.

Kudos to BIS for getting a great sound out of the tricky concert hall. Reference had gotten their ducks in a row with their many CDs made there, and I was wondering how BIS would tackle the hall...they got it pretty close to perfect with this SACD.

I wish I had clearer memories of previous Beethoven cycles, but I liked enough of what I heard to recommend this and hope that BIS will do a complete cycle with Minnesota!!!!

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Review by General Custer June 16, 2005 (1 of 9 found this review helpful)
An imposing interpretation and an excellent recording ( perhaps a little unbalanced, in stereo, for the 5°). The coupling of these symphonies is interesting for those which, like me, like only moderately the "Heroic" and the "Pastorale".

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Review by nickc June 2, 2006 (5 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Looking at the photo of the Minnesota Orchestra it looks like there are about 80 musicians - in between a smaller period ensemble and the full Vienna or Berlin orchestras. That is what these excellent performances sound like - I heard more detail than ever before.

It begs the question - do we need another symphony cycle? On this eveidence I will say yes - these are excellent performances in also excellent sound.

I only had a few minoir quibbles: I thought the minuet in the 4th. and the 1st. movement of the 5th. (I still love Karajan's 1st. movement from the mid-70s cycle)could have been a little bit quicker but that is only my personal view. Apart from that the playing is fantastic.

The sound in MC is excellent as well but make sure you turn it up a few notches.

Can't wait for the 3rd. and 8th. next!

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Review by madisonears February 15, 2007 (7 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I guess everyone is just in love with this disc, but I feel differently. I was left cold by the performance and the recorded sound. I prefer a warmer, more solemn interpretation, and these symphonies, while energetic, seemed to me somewhat underplayed. Perhaps it's the thinness of the recording itself, which doesn't provide the full weight of a symphony orchestra, at least as I've heard one many times (including these works). I will admit that the orchestra plays well, and there is great clarity of the individual instrumental voices, but I was never moved by the music.

Of all the beautiful BIS discs I own, this one was the least liked for sound and performance. My preference remains the stodgy old Masur set on Pentatone, with its full, rich sound and solemnity of phrase. The Vanska is a valid alternative for those who have grown tired of listening to Beethoven and prefer that his music be played almost as if it were Mozart's.

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (7 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
The reviewer above seems right about this: Everyone else *is* in love with this CD. I hear from reliable ears that the new Jaervi Jr. cycle is nearly as or even more revelatory... and if so, it must be something very, very special, indeed:

This was one of my favorite discs of the year 2005... and remains loved and cherished - and the only recording on this list of reviews that I'll give the full five stars (for the 4th) for.

Beethoven is well represented in the catalog, but there is room for more. I said that last year about the Takács recording of the op. 18 string quartets. I'll be able to use it for their recording of the late quartets, too - but here it is Osmo Vänskä's place to receive praise for his first installment of what will be the first made-for-SACD Beethoven cycle. More Beethoven symphonies should be a tough sell - but BIS puts faith into one of their top conductors at his new post, and boy, did it pay off. I thought I had written a review for this disc on ionarts, but I cannot find it. But I gladly repeat my earlier praise and open with a bold statement: this is the finest 4th symphony on record! It dances with joy, it is gloriously alive but never skimpy. The orchestra manages perfection (as should be expected) but avoids being glib. That "slender Greek Maiden" (R. Schumann) will enchant you, will invite you to a dance you won't resist. Coupled with a very good - if less outstanding - 5th symphony, this is another disc that you will want to have, SACD player or not. Who thought we could still hear a Beethoven symphony 'as if for the first time'.

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