So nearly so wonderful
Symphony No. 9, Op. 125
Helena Juntunen (soprano), Katarina Karnéus (mezzo soprano), Daniel Norman (tenor), Neal Davies (bass), Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Orchestra, cond. Osmo Vänskä
BIS-SACD-1616 (66 minutes)
The evidence of Osmo Vänskä’s readings of Beethoven’s Third and Eighth Symphonies (BIS-SACD-1516) – and the countless Sibelius recordings before that – was that his Ninth was going to be something special. And so it proves, with bells on: I’ve rarely heard a Ninth with such blazing intensity.
The hallmarks of Vänskä’s conducting, we’ve long since learned, are a meticulous attention to detail – if it’s in the score, you’ll hear it in the performance – and an often startling rhythmic energy.
Vänskä’s Achilles’ heel is three-quarters of his team of vocal soloists, with Helena Juntunen shrill at the top, Neal Davies wobbly at the bottom and Daniel Norman characterless in between. The choral contribution, from the Minnesota Chorale, is commendably nimble, but Davies’ vibrato-heavy ‘Nicht diese Töne’ seems to mean just that: though Vänskä’s musicians and choristers keep up the tension, his soloists (I’m exempting Katarina Karnéus from these charges) consistently let him down.
Still, most of this recording is the Ninth of your dreams.