Symphony No.9 in D minor, Op.125 (Choral)
Helena Juntunen (soprano)
Katarina Karnéus (mezzo-soprano)
Daniel Norman (tenor)
Neal Davies (bass-baritone)
Recorded January 2006 in Orchestra Hall, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Reviewed by: David Gutman
Reviewed: December 2006
CD No: BIS
Duration: 66 minutes
It is a symptom of the modern age that while playing standards have improved beyond all recognition it has become more and more difficult to find performances of the standard classics that truly satisfy. Academics may tinker with the literal (and limited) truth of the indications on a page but, for the performer, it’s liberating the spirit within that presents the real difficulty.
In our sceptical time there’s a particular problem with the most outstanding works of art. We study and restudy them when perhaps what we need to do is believe in them. On this evidence, Osmo Vänskä does. I am not sure this is as world-beating an account of Beethoven’s Ninth as his Fourth or Eighth, yet it is as distinguished as – and better recorded than – any recent rival.
There is a sense in which Vänskä follows the mix and match tradition set by Sir Simon Rattle, grafting the latest scholarship onto older root-stock, but he has no time for some of the diverse precedents on offer. Though his orchestra is plainly less prestigious than the Vienna Philharmonic and wary of the sort of gestural overload that would expose the weaknesses of the ensemble, the concept simply doesn’t allow for subjective, Furtwänglerish touches.
The result is as sharp-edged and vital as you might expect with the slow movement kept moving without feeling harried and the finale’s recitative passages dispatched a tempo. The soloists there are unexceptionable rather than outstanding. The chorus, on the other hand, is terrific, superbly drilled and articulate.
Vänskä has spoken of the immense strength and optimism Beethoven encodes and, even if he eschews ‘excessive’ profundity of the kind Leonard Bernstein was wont to seek out, you never feel he is sprinting through the score oblivious to its wider resonance as perhaps the greatest affirmative work in our culture.
As always from this source, the recording has an incredibly wide dynamic range, accommodating the blaze and the intimacy of the music-making without strain. Even from this purely technical point of view, this is a release that demands to be heard.