BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”; Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 – Minnesota Orchestra/ Osmo Vanska – BIS

by | Jul 16, 2006 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

BEETHOVEN: Symphony No. 3 in E-flat Major, Op. 55 “Eroica”; Symphony No. 8 in F Major, Op. 93 – Minnesota Orchestra/ Osmo Vanska – BIS Multichannel SACD-1516,  76:16 ****:

In surround sound, Super Audio format, the ever-familiar Eroica Symphony manages some unique sounds, especially from the woodwind parts; enough so you’ll be consulting your Eulenberg score to make sure Vanska hasn’t added a few effects. Even having taken the first movement repeat, Vanska has the Allegro con brio moving, without sacrificing clarity of detail nor rhythmic thrust.  The movement, after all, is a study in metric/rhythmic asymmetries and their eventual reconciliation. At times, the polyphonic articulation, along with a thunderous tympani part, become subdued enough for us conceive the sound as paradoxically intimate, massive chamber music. Clarinet, oboe, and flute emanate from all corners of the sound space, the tympanist right in your lap. Great string and trumpet work at the movement’s closing peroration.

It would hard to pinpoint Vanska’s models or tradition; maybe something of Toscanini’s titanic velocity and single-mindedness, something of Norrington’s revisionism, but I would venture that Vanska has decided to inquire of the urtext. The Minnesota Symphony, too, has its own history with this music, under Dorati, Marriner, and Oue. Oboe and tympani reign in the Marche funebre, where Vanska no less makes much of the orchestra’s pianissimos. The Scherzo enjoys light feet, especially after the monumental Adagio assai. Dionysian energy prevails, with the strings and winds in short notes rising to the tympani’s strong cadences. Some exact subito effects in the horns, the tremolandi in strings and tympani sustaining an undercurrent of Herculean power that breaks forth in a torrent of sound.  Finally, the musical allusions to Beethoven’s Prometheus ballet, evident in inversion in the opening movement, now become a blatant vehicle for theme and variation. Nice tip of the bow in the stings, oboe, then arco statement of the full theme. The flute solo emerges prominently, then the Beethoven muscles take over, the orchestra busy in every  part, down to the mellow doublebasses. We feel the music as a matter of great sound and textural contrasts, connected by pulsating, lively tissue, conceived by a master of orchestration.

Vanska’s is a startlingly muscular conception of the F Major, in which the softer elements seem like afterthoughts. Every cadence is underlined by the tympani, whose rolls become the voice of Zeus. No kind homage to Classicism, this. The development takes off like a lightning bolt, and the close imitation of the parts sizzles with electricity. Wow! Even the doublebasses are smoldering, charred by velocity and urgency. How disingenuous the menuet rhythm then appears, just waiting once again for the magma to rise. Even the “regular” metrics of the Allegretto scherzando emanate a surprising girth, whatever the intention to parody Maelzel’s metronome. The Menuet does present a celebratory stance, but the form is hypostasized, expanded in retrospect. Its trio is played as the essence of a Mozart cassation, with an added touch of romance. More seismic convulsions for the Allegro vivace, convincing us that this Beethoven is quite a wild character. The rhythmic and contrapuntal contortions are the same as those in the Eroica, only more condensed. This is a mighty, powerful survey of two Beethoven staples, excellently conceived and renegotiated. The BIS hi-res surround sound, courtesy Thore Brinkmann, Jume 2005, will test your equipment to every limit Beethoven can press.

— Gary Lemco

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