The Swedish BIS label is another of those European classical labels with a very strong commitment to SACD and a number of releases in the format. In a move in answer to the U.S. major labels who have completely dropped their contracts with major orchestras here, BIS has committed itself to the Minnesota Orchestra, much as the Finnish Ondine label has done with the Philadelphia Orchestra. They have launched a complete Beethoven symphonies project which has already released one SACD of the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, plus a second SACD of the Third and Eighth.
While those were excellent, this new version of the Ninth in hi-res surround knocks me off my feet. There have been several Beethoven Ninths on SACD already. I’m not a Karajan fan and his complete set is rather dated now soundwise. The complete Kurt Mazur set issued on PentaTone is very good, but it dates from the 70s and doesn’t quite compete sonically to the latest recording technology of BIS in the Minnesota release. The way the four soloists are spaced out across the soundstage for the Ode to Joy is indeed thrilling, and they sound even stronger than the fine soloists in the Mazur version.
Sonics aside, this is the most powerful and exciting Ninth I have ever heard. It harks back to the white-hot historic German recordings of the Ninth by Furtwängler, Mengelberg, or even Klemperer, but in the thrilling clarity of today’s hi-res multichannel sound. Nor is it the heavy Germanic approach or Klemperer’s slowed-down tempi. In fact most sections of the Ode to Joy final movement are taken at a breathless pace that seems to set a new speed record for the Ninth. But it all works, and very effectively.
Now I eagerly await the completion of the set.
– John Sunier