- Symphony No. 3 in E flat major ("Eroica"), Op. 55
- Symphony No. 8 in F major, Op. 93
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From its crisp, silvery, bullet-like opening chords, Osmo Vänskä's interpretation of Beethoven's Eroica shimmers as a true gem that glistens against the competition. Vänskä's broadly artistic conception fuses together a sense of history, spontaneity, and originality. The first movement glides along beautifully and deftly, perhaps too much so -- after all, there isn't much of what one might refer to as "Beethovenian vigor" infused in the blood of this rendition. What is present, though, is a clear sense of phrasing, accurate technical execution, and an elegant style (within some of the more delicate passages) that is not often heard in this work. A clarinetist himself, Vänskä coaxes some brilliant, nuanced playing from his woodwind section. Vänskä also has great instincts: as things intensify, especially during the ominous development, he is able to draw a tempered ferocity from the Minnesota Orchestra, creating a well-crafted arch throughout the movement. Beethoven's funeral march is breathless from the start, and here Vänskä effectively creates an atmosphere of the utmost tension. Wonderful attention to detail, articulation, and dynamic contrasts gives the second movement a real sense of emotional turbulence. The voices and independent lines of the fugue have rarely been more lucid, particularly the frequently glossed over suspended note at the fugue's massive climax. The orchestra's rendition of the technically difficult third and fourth movements is also compelling, taut, and energetic. The crispness that breezes through the first movement feels more at home here, and the fourth movement benefits from the precision and clarity. The optimistic, playful, and somewhat pastoral Eighth Symphony under Vänskä exhibits all of those qualities; he also achieves a real continuity of color within the woodwinds and through the brasses. The perky second movement sounds more bittersweet than is usual, but the rich chords the Minnesotans elicit give warm reassurance. The weighty pomposity of the third movement helps give an even more explosive affect to the unpredictably explosive and jarring final movement. Vänskä's thoughtful attention to detail during the hemiola figures slightly before the effervescent conclusion makes for an exciting performance. This is Vänskä's second installment of Beethoven Symphonies from BIS. Their SACD sound quality is warm, rich and clear. Under Vänskä, the Minnesotans are without doubt a changed orchestra -- for the better. These recordings were made in 2005 and 2006: future audiences will surely look back on these years as either Minnesota's peak or a significant turning point to even greater success.