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Reviews: Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 3 & 8 - Vänskä

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Reviews: 6

Review by Daland June 15, 2006 (4 of 14 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Do we really need this cycle?
Fifty minutes of sheer tedium - this is how I would sum up Vänskä's reading of Beethoven's Eroica. While his interpretation is more on the traditional side in terms of tempi, he simply does not know how to build tension and to bring out the textures. The Eighth Symphony is slightly better, but not very strong on detail. Sonically, this SACD is also quite a disappointment. Although I turned up the volume several times, the sound remained rather dark and opaque, lacking brilliance and bloom. Especially I did not like the rather unpleasant sound of the horns (which had been quite brilliant in the Fifth Symphony) and the thin strings. Nor do the woodwind really come into their own. The extreme dynamics and dry acoustics are obviously part of the problem. I never had the feeling that this is a multi-channel recording.
I played Kempe's redbook CD with the Berlin Philharmonic (on Testament)immediately afterwards and found it incredibly thrilling by comparison (though rather aggressive in the strings).
After listening to this SACD for a second time, I played the first disc in the series (Symphonies Nos 4 and 5). Like the Fourth, the Fifth is much better in terms of interpretation and sound, but clearly inferior to Kleiber, Walter, Karajan or Szell (all available on SACD).

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Review by Edvin June 17, 2006 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Those of you who have enjoyed the first SACD in this cycle will not be disappointed. Osmo Vänskä and his Minnesota team are on top form with playing that is alert and sensitive.

The great Eroica starts off with two very short chords, very precise. The tempo for the movement proper is quite traditional but Vänskä chooses to make some accents here and there to pinpoint details that is often lost in this score. Very, very minor things mostly about balance. The forward drive is there as is the enthusiasm of the orchestra.

The funeral march is slow, lean in texture and extremely beautiful. It is in parts almost chamber music like and also pointing forward towards the late quartets. But there is also a kind of dignity and a sort of proudness. Everyone here knows that this music is the best ever and treats it accordingly. Not with awe, but as a challenge to make something new and exciting. Do they succeed? Yes.

Vänskä and his excellent orchestra has a romantic ground to work from. This is not Beethoven as seen by Gardiner or Norrington, no, this is probably the best of all possible worlds. Today we have eyes in the back as well as in the front and it is the duty of our greatest musicians to combine these in order to make music of the highest order. But still we are stuck within a tradition and some has mentioned the sound of the horns. The horn is a very sensitive instrument and some diferent schools have developed over the years. What we have here is a transatlantic sound that was apparent in Maazel´s cycle with Cleveland Orchestra from the mid seventies, and even earlier of course. Also his Brahms cycle had this very distinctive sound. In England the Gramophone hated it as it didn´t remind them of their own sound. They where wrong, The LSO horns sounded very American during the Previn tenure. But what are we to make of the Russian horns, or the French? This wide vibrato.

Anyway, the Minnesota horn section is marvellous and I revel in their accents and how they colour the texture all the way through these symphonies. So the Scherzo is lively and played with lots of energy and it leads to a finale of great sense of proportions. The lines are super clear as is the over all idea. The orchestra again answers like a man/woman...and this is a very alert ensemble. Oh how I want these musicians to work together in many SACD´s to come. This chemistry is not bought on the flee market.

Back to Beethoven. The eight is a strange piece with its nervous and almost manic intensity. Humorous music, well, maybe so. I´m not laughing. Vänskä´s eight is intensive and very detailed. Not a divertissement at all. You won´t find the big and beefy string surges here, instead Vänskä is definately Sravinskyan. I applaud it and would welcome some Igor from these forces.

The sound is excellent and the only difference I could hear from the previous issue is a slight echoey sound. This is so minor as to be spelled ...(I tried to make the text look "minor" here, arghh.) The really quiet passages are to quiet, but they are few.

This is Beethoven for these times.

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Review by Windsurfer August 30, 2006 (8 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
I know I am hearing an extraordinary performance on record when I suddenly find myself sitting up in my Ekornes recliner waving my arms as if to conduct the orchestra. That happened last night as I gave this a first hearing. This IS an extraordinary performance of the Eroica. Inner phrase tensions in the first movement remind me of the phrasing of Kleiber's Beethoven 5. The orchestra plays magnificently for Vanska - best playing out of Minneapolis I ever heard! The funeral march is soaringly beautiful with horns outdoing themselves. The third movement is propulsive, again with outstanding brass and winds while the strings are uncommonly silky. The fourth movement has just the right blend of forward movement, tension and grandeur. The sound is excellent except for a very slight and let me emphasize the word slight, sense that we are hearing a performance in a hall meant for an audience that is not present so there is a just noticable reverberation characteristic that calls attention to itself....a very very slight echoey quality that hardly detracts from the overall effect of this absolutely superb performance.

My rating of 5 is conservative for performance, 5 being the highest we can give - where this in the company of so many others rated as five stands out as so superior that one knows it deserves more, much more! 4-1/2 for sound because there are PentaTones, Harmonia Mundis, Telarcs, some Capriccios, and others that have a slight edge in naturalness and complete and utter freedom from congestion where this one falls just short of the best of the best - which is what we should reserve 5 stars for! (My ratings are for multi-channel as I don't take time to bother with stereo anymore)

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Review by darkroommd February 9, 2007 (10 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
This is probably the singular most spun SACD in my entire collection. Yet, I do not return to it as much for the Third, but much moreso for the Eighth. For that, this album is unequivocally 5 stars.

Vanska's Minnesota Orchestra is a bit smaller ensemble ("tighter" comes to mind) than some other groups offering competing Beethoven cycles in high-def audio (Berlin/Barenboim on DVD-A, Berlin/Karajan, LSO/Haitink). And under Vanska's baton, they are one of the most well-oiled machines out there.

To briefly review the Third... Strikingly precise playing, moderate to fast tempi, extreme dynamic contrasts, sharp accents, more of a classical reading than a romantic one. Vanska doesn't heap on the melodrama as others (Bernstein, Karajan) have in the past, especially in the funeral march. There is an overall lack of romanticism that many listeners will not prefer for the Eroica. Indeed, here I prefer Haitink's Eroica on LSO Live.

The same above analysis also applies to the Eighth, and those qualities are absolutely ideal for the "little" F major symphony. Vanska's emphasis on precision, timing, contrast, and felicity make this the finest performance of the Eighth that will ever be recorded, IMHO. It is such a joy to hear an orchestra in perfect lockstep from the opening statement of the main theme, so crucial here as Beethoven places it foremost, no introductory phrase, no time to warm up. The exposition, repeat, and development are played with tightly wound intensity. Then the infamous FF recapitulation comes, where the main theme given by low strings is usually buried beneath screaming high strings and winds, evidencing the composer's deafness. Not here. Vanska manages to drop down the upper layers of sound and uncover the melody without losing any of the intensity. Finally, the theme is easily and quietly dismissed in the final bar. Utter perfection here. You will want to set your player on repeat.

The middle metronome & minuet movements again perfectly capture Beethoven's genius. Again, Vanska's use of contrast highlights the humorous and manic nature of this work. The finale is much like the First Movement, so full of intensity and forward motion. The rapid triplet figures come out as triplets, not as tremolos. The climactic coda is superlative.

Sonically, we are treated to exemplary BIS recording standards: natural sounds, well staged, transparent.

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Review by jlaurson October 10, 2007 (5 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Last year, Osmo Vänskä's recording of Symphonies Nos. 4 and 5 of his current Beethoven cycle on BIS held a high place in the list of my favorite recordings. There is no reason not to give the 2006 spot to his second issue of symphonies 3 and 8. If perhaps neither are as – literally – outstanding as his Fourth (at the top of my list of Fourths, by all means), the combination of recorded sound, vigor, and orchestral perfection make it worthy of inclusion in this list. Under Vänskä the Minnesota Orchestra play, well, perfect: Not a note, not an accent, not the tiniest detail is out of place. All that might not impress too much if it were not for the liveliness that is, thankfully, not given short shrift. This is perfection serving a higher purpose, rather than being a goal in itself. Suggesting width, even in crisp tempos, the Eighth brings a heft to the work I have not heard in any ‘modern’ interpretations (Barenboim, who has plenty of that in all of the symphonies of his superb second cycle (Warner Classics) does that, too, but his Beethoven is an altogether more old-fashioned animal, compared to Vänskä’s). The Third is as crisp as a starched white shirt and has as much bite as a Granny Smith. Like Pentatone’s sonata cycle, this is recorded in the Super Audio format. Although the SACD may die a slow death yet without having taken off as much as the format deserved, issues like these are worth getting into the technology, all the same. But even in standard Red-Book CD sound this is more than worth trying to get your stocking stuffed with!
(Vänskä’s Ninth is out already and on Alex Ross' "Apex 2006" list.)

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Review by Luukas January 16, 2014 (3 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:    
This is my first SACD, and it it brilliant! Osmo Vänskä's Beethoven symphony cycle with Minnesota Orchestra is modern and flawless: performances are modern and vety attractive. This disc includes Beethoven's third and eighth symphonies. I love these performances: third symphony's scherzo is very cool: horns fanfates are stunning. Multichannel recording's sound quality is first rate. Fresh performances and excellent sound quality. This is fantastic!

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