- Symphony No. 4 in B flat major, Op. 60
- Symphony No. 5 in C minor ("Fate"), Op. 67
There's no better way for an orchestra to announce its intention to be taken seriously on the world stage than to record a Beethoven symphony cycle. That's exactly what the Minnesota Orchestra is doing here with their recently appointed music director, Osmo Vänskä, who joined the ensemble in its centenary year, 2003. The conductor's long-term association with the BIS label -- for whom he has surveyed the music of Sibelius with his other orchestra, Finland's Lahti Symphony -- provides a prestigious new home for the Minnesotans, and they are certainly making the most of the opportunity. This first installment of a five-disc series, featuring the Fourth and Fifth Symphonies, includes some of the most riveting Beethoven to be recorded in recent years, as energetic, focused, and dramatic as one could wish. The Minnesota Orchestra is thriving under Vänskä's leadership, recapturing the flair of its classic Mercury Living Presence recordings (and recovering from its last few music directors, whose legacy was uneven at best). Boasting a rich and well-blended sound -- wonderfully captured by the BIS engineers at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis -- the ensemble responds with enthusiasm to Vänskä's lively tempos and to the very effective loud-and-soft extremes that he elicits. The Fourth Symphony, often overshadowed by the Third and Fifth, is no less a masterpiece; with its perky wind solos and bustling spirits, it comes off particularly well here. But the Fifth, from its famously assertive opening onwards, also lives up to high expectations in a performance full of dramatic contrasts and thrilling ascents to the climaxes. Whether you're looking to start a Beethoven collection or simply to experience the renewed vigor of a great American orchestra, you won't go wrong with this disc.