Osmo Vänskä is the Finnish conductor who first made his mark internationally in the last decade of the last millennium with his recordings of Finnish composer Sibelius. With the Finnish Lahti Symphony, Vänskä's Sibelius was a Finn's Sibelius: clear, lucid, light, luminous, muscular, and driven. Now with the new millennium, Vänskä has gone international with this recording of Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth symphonies, his first recording with the Minnesota Orchestra, and the start of a projected cycle of Beethoven's complete symphonies.
Vänskä's Beethoven is a Finn's Beethoven. His Beethoven's Fourth is as light and luminous as his Sibelius' Sixth and his Beethoven's Fifth is as clear and lucid as his Sibelius' Fifth. But Vänskä is also Vänskä and his Beethoven is also muscular and driven. The strength of his sforzandos and force of his fortissimos is enormous and the drive of his Allegros and especially his Allegro con brios is immense.
Vänskä's Beethoven is not a lyrical or a meditative Beethoven. The tone of the Adagio of his Fourth could be a little less spiccato and the tone of the Andante con moto of his Fifth could be a bit more cantabile. Part of the reason for the tone, of course, is the Minnesota Orchestra. An ensemble with a long history of great conductors on its way up, the Minnesota is a virtuoso orchestra but one characterized by a gutty string tone, a rough wind tone, and a raw brass tone. But their tone and their virtuosity suit Beethoven to the floor and the result of the combination of Vänskä and the Minnesota is an ideal balance of overwhelming power and relentless motion. BIS' super audio CD sound is as real as its earlier digital recordings, but with greater depth and warmth.