Osmo Vänskä

Beethoven: Symphony No. 9

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Anyone familiar with BIS' variable sound quality should feel a little cautious about acquiring this SACD of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor because the recording is not quite state of the art and quite frustrating to deal with. Granted, there's no lack of details in this meticulous performance by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchesta and Chorale, nor any concern that the musicians have seriously misinterpreted the score, so for a satisfactory reading that has all the notes, this one will do nicely. But SACDs aren't supposed to sound this stuffy, sterile, and airless, and the orchestra shouldn't sound so clinically miked. A multichannel recording like this should sound fabulously resonant and vibrantly alive, not mixed down to some middling audio level that can be played safely on ordinary stereo equipment. Alas, this is about as dull as any DSD recording of the Ninth can sound, and the levels are so low that it's easy to miscalculate volume settings. The worst aspect of this mixing down is the homogenization of the orchestra's sections and the draining of natural resonance that makes everything seem flat, as if played behind an aural scrim. Even the Finale, with its dramatic vocal and choral parts, sounds like a two-dimensional rendering of Beethoven's score, instead of an "Ode to Joy" with physical depth and dynamic range. So there are no compelling reasons to invest your dollars in this SACD, especially since a superior performance by Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra on LSO Live is also available on SACD.

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