Beethoven's Ninth SymphonyBeethoven's Ninth Symphony

Helena Juntunen (sop) Katarina Karnéus (mez) Daniel Norman (ten) Neal Davies (bass) Minnesota Chorale and Orchestra / Osmo Vänskä BIS BIS-SACD1616 (65’ · DDD · T/t) Buy from Amazon

Vänskä offers a radical rethink of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, a youthful, brave statement, free of iconic influences. Considered in purely musical terms, his version would better fit the idea of revolution through renewal.

The opening of Vänskä’s Choral, though deathly quiet, is chiselled and precise, the first tutti like a fireball from the heavens, much aided by a hugely dynamic recording. Within a mere minute or two, one quality has made its mark with maximum force, namely rhythm, tight as a drum – that, and an astonishing power of projection. But what is really striking is the muscularity of the playing, its clipped, propulsive phrasing, quite unlike any other modern-instrument version of the Ninth. Suddenly this quirky first movement sounds like tough-grained middle-period Beethoven, the fugal writing at its centre granitic and purposeful, the music’s many calculated repetitions unnervingly obsessive. The contrast with the bacchanalian Scherzo is more marked than usual, Vänskä again focusing the music’s rhythmic profile with unwavering control. The Adagio’s quiet opening is breathtaking and although the variations that follow are seamlessly interwoven, the effect is anything but rigid.

Vänskä’s finale returns us to the shock and awe of his first moment, with a decisive, tight-lipped opening (the fast tempo held absolutely firm), warmly phrased counterpoint surrounding the ‘Ode to Joy’ build-up and then, with the unleashing of the voices, an excellent group of soloists and a well drilled chorus who sing as if they really know (and mean) what they’re singing. The tenor’s march episode is fairly swift, leading to a razor-sharp fugue. And when the chorus enters, well…In a word, Vänska’s finale is full of zeal.

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