Osmo Vänskä / Minnesota Orchestra

Beethoven: The Symphonies

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One may have high hopes for this hybrid SACD set of the nine symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven, performed by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchesta, and for the most part, these hopes are well-founded. Credit is due Vänskä for eliciting closely detailed yet stirring readings from his musicians, and the Minnesotans respond with great spirit and technical brilliance in the performances of the first eight symphonies. The playing is even quite good in the performance of the Symphony No. 9 in D minor, "Choral," though this multichannel recording is the weakest of the cycle and almost unworthy of being placed alongside its sharper and clearer sounding companions, due to its variable and often dull reproduction. SACDs aren't supposed to sound this stuffy and airless, and a state-of-the-art recording should sound fabulously resonant and vibrantly alive, not mixed-down to some middling volume level. One has to wonder how the sound could be so enjoyable on the first four discs in this package, and then be so frustrating on the fifth. Even though there are some exciting moments, particularly in the Finale, where the Minnesota Chorale joins the orchestra in a rousing rendition of the Ode to Joy, the sound seems only as good as a regular CD, and the orchestra is not shown to best advantage. This will make the biggest difference to the listener who wants a consistent and terrific-sounding set of the symphonies and who may be disappointed with any flagging of quality. To the collector who owns multiple recordings of the Symphony No. 9, this may only be a minor problem, and the set will still be easy to appreciate for the bulk of its fine playing and generally first-rate audio.

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