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Symphonic Music - Released February 7, 2012 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - 4 étoiles Classica - Exceptional Sound Recording
Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has recorded a complete cycle of the symphonies of Jean Sibelius once before, with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in the 1990s. This new version of the composer's two most popular and accessible symphonies is part of a second cycle, recorded with the Minnesota Orchestra at its home in downtown Minneapolis, has the acoustic edge over the earlier version. Vänskä's approach, far from Romantic, is to break down the Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43, especially, into its smallest constituent parts and then start reassembling. The result is a very attractive congruence between music-making and engineering: listeners will notice details in Sibelius' marvelous orchestration that have been elusive until now, and Vänskä has by now molded the Minnesota Orchestra into an instrument that can respond to his every idea. That's quite an accomplishment; the group is now in the very top tier of U.S. orchestras. For some, the reading may leave the impression that if the British had had to depend on it during World War II, when Sibelius had the function of stirring wartime spirit, they might have gotten a bit depressed. The recording seems to lack oomph, yet stick with Vänskä's plan and it gathers power as it goes along. The bottom line is that this is a fresh and very detailed look at some warhorses of the symphonic repertory. © TiVo
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Symphonies - Released August 5, 2016 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Award - Gramophone Editor's Choice
Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä has conducted the music of Jean Sibelius throughout his career, and he first recorded the seven symphonies in the mid-1990s with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra on BIS. This 2016 release of the Symphony No. 3 in C major, the Symphony No. 6 in D minor, and the Symphony No. 7 in C major completes Vänskä's second Sibelius cycle, also released on BIS but performed this time by the Minnesota Orchestra. Comparisons between the two cycles are inevitable, and while the interpretations are rather similar in pacing and feeling, and the playing is excellent in both, the particulars are a matter of personal preference. However, there is an important difference in the quality of reproduction. The recordings by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra were issued as CDs and were fine for their time, but the Minnesota Orchestra's recordings benefit tremendously from the advances in audiophile technology, and the multichannel sound of this hybrid SACD is a big plus. Not only is the dynamic range extremely wide, all the details of the performances are absolutely clear, whether at pianissimo or fortissimo levels. The warmth and depth of the audio are extraordinary, and tone colors are varied and distinct, with ideal separation of parts. Sample the low brass in the third movement of the Symphony No. 3 to feel how vibrant they are, or try the marvelous string passage at the opening of the Symphony No. 6 to experience the utterly transparent sound. Highly recommended, along with the two previous volumes, which were released in 2012 and 2013. © TiVo
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Classical - Released April 30, 2013 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Gramophone Record of the Month - Gramophone Editor's Choice
Finnish conductor Osmo Vänskä recorded this exact pair of Sibelius symphonies for the BIS label in 1996, with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, and this 2013 release with the Minnesota Orchestra is recognizably the work of the same artist. However, he has not simply repeated the earlier performance with a new ensemble. The biggest differences come in the Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63, which Sibelius wrote after a cancer diagnosis, convinced that he was at death's door. (He lived another 50 years.) The unbelievably dour finale is sometimes given over to histrionic declarations of gloom. Vänskä shaves almost a minute off the already quick earlier performance, resulting in a reading that some will find slightly dry. But really he just lets the music speak for itself, the Minnesota's trombones cutting off phrases like anvils of death, the cyclical appearance of the tritone interval in the work emerging naturally in the precise work of the Minnesotans (who for all the talk of Finnish musical miracles are at least the equals of their Lahti counterparts) and doing the job of convincing the listener of the music's utter hopelessness. The Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39, is closer to the earlier reading: taut, fast, devoted to the emergence of Sibelius' unique brand of atomized forward motion, precise motivic work that builds up great waves of energy. The Tchaikovskian melody of the slow movement is again somewhat dry, but again the impression created by the whole is very powerful, and it is augmented by the superb work of the BIS engineering team on the musicians' home ground, Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. Highly recommended, even to those already immersed in Nordic readings of Sibelius. © TiVo
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Symphonic Music - Released February 3, 2017 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions 5 de Diapason - Choc de Classica
Conductor Osmo Vänskä has used his residency at the Minnesota Orchestra to revisit the symphonic music of Jean Sibelius, which he recorded some years ago in acclaimed version with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in his native Finland. In Vänskä's hands, the meaty epic Kullervo has always been a crowd favorite, and it was a natural for the new version offered here. What's new? The energy of live performance for one thing, with the recorded product artfully stitched together from three nights of music at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis. The key vocal soloist, mezzo-soprano Lilli Paasikivi, is actually the same one who appeared on the Lahti Symphony recording, back in the '90s, and she's glorious. Sample the deliberate slow movement "Kullervo's Youth," which in no way lacks intensity: it seems to bespeak great natural forces, and the whole orchestra has a remarkable quality of seeming to flow slowly in a distant epic world. The other major new factor here is the presence of a new work, Migrations, by Finnish composer Olli Kortekangas. The work was commissioned both to mark the Finnish migrations to Minnesota and to provide a companion piece for Kullervo (it was actually intended as a prelude and might have functioned better in that spot in the recording, but was probably relegated to the end so that Kullervo would fit onto the first CD of the double set). It offers a mix of instrumental and vocal movements, the latter set to texts by Minnesota Finnish-American poet Sheila Packa. "The Man Lived in a Tree" is a delightful bit of Nordic Americana, but you'd be hard-pressed to connect the words in the piece as a whole to the specific theme of Finnish migration to America without prior consultation or explanation, and Finland's YL Male Vocal Choir is not overly clear in their English enunciation. They do, however, provide a stirring performance of Sibelius' Finlandia, Op. 26, in a unique version that combines the orchestral original with a choral arrangement Sibelius made in 1940; it was one of the last things he wrote, and it wraps up a concert like this in a very satisfying way. This is a worthwhile purchase for the legions who think Vänskä is the great Sibelius interpreter of our time. © TiVo
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Classical - Released December 6, 2019 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica
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Symphonies - Released April 6, 2018 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet Distinctions Choc de Classica
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Classical - Released November 1, 2006 | BIS

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Classical - Released January 1, 2000 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
Anyone familiar with BIS' variable sound quality should feel a little cautious about acquiring this SACD of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor because the recording is not quite state of the art and quite frustrating to deal with. Granted, there's no lack of details in this meticulous performance by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchesta and Chorale, nor any concern that the musicians have seriously misinterpreted the score, so for a satisfactory reading that has all the notes, this one will do nicely. But SACDs aren't supposed to sound this stuffy, sterile, and airless, and the orchestra shouldn't sound so clinically miked. A multichannel recording like this should sound fabulously resonant and vibrantly alive, not mixed down to some middling audio level that can be played safely on ordinary stereo equipment. Alas, this is about as dull as any DSD recording of the Ninth can sound, and the levels are so low that it's easy to miscalculate volume settings. The worst aspect of this mixing down is the homogenization of the orchestra's sections and the draining of natural resonance that makes everything seem flat, as if played behind an aural scrim. Even the Finale, with its dramatic vocal and choral parts, sounds like a two-dimensional rendering of Beethoven's score, instead of an "Ode to Joy" with physical depth and dynamic range. So there are no compelling reasons to invest your dollars in this SACD, especially since a superior performance by Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra on LSO Live is also available on SACD. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2007 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
Proving it doesn't take a chamber-sized orchestra to achieve extreme textural clarity, Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra have in this 2007 BIS recording once again created model contemporary instrument performances of Beethoven's symphonies. In this coupling of the First and Sixth, Vänskä and his forces use Jonathan del Mar's Neue Urtext Edition for Bärenreiter, a decision that alters hundreds of details of articulation and phrasing. But more significant is the strength, agility, and lucidity Vänskä and the Minnesotans bring to the table. The First is graceful and airy, though with plenty of power, while the Sixth, despite the work's larger dimensions and heavier textures, remains clear and direct. As interpreters, Vänskä and the Minnesotans likewise tend toward the light side. While this may send some older listeners back to their bigger and brawnier Walter and Klemperer recordings, younger listeners may prove more accepting of a leaner and harder but less superhuman Beethoven. BIS' super audio sound is deep and detailed, with a wonderful feeling of air around the instruments. © TiVo
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Classical - Released March 1, 2006 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
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. © TiVo
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Classical - Released January 1, 2004 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
Osmo Vänskä is the Finnish conductor who first made his mark internationally in the last decade of the last millennium with his recordings of Finnish composer Sibelius. With the Finnish Lahti Symphony, Vänskä's Sibelius was a Finn's Sibelius: clear, lucid, light, luminous, muscular, and driven. Now with the new millennium, Vänskä has gone international with this recording of Beethoven's Fourth and Fifth symphonies, his first recording with the Minnesota Orchestra, and the start of a projected cycle of Beethoven's complete symphonies. Vänskä's Beethoven is a Finn's Beethoven. His Beethoven's Fourth is as light and luminous as his Sibelius' Sixth and his Beethoven's Fifth is as clear and lucid as his Sibelius' Fifth. But Vänskä is also Vänskä and his Beethoven is also muscular and driven. The strength of his sforzandos and force of his fortissimos is enormous and the drive of his Allegros and especially his Allegro con brios is immense. Vänskä's Beethoven is not a lyrical or a meditative Beethoven. The tone of the Adagio of his Fourth could be a little less spiccato and the tone of the Andante con moto of his Fifth could be a bit more cantabile. Part of the reason for the tone, of course, is the Minnesota Orchestra. An ensemble with a long history of great conductors on its way up, the Minnesota is a virtuoso orchestra but one characterized by a gutty string tone, a rough wind tone, and a raw brass tone. But their tone and their virtuosity suit Beethoven to the floor and the result of the combination of Vänskä and the Minnesota is an ideal balance of overwhelming power and relentless motion. BIS' super audio CD sound is as real as its earlier digital recordings, but with greater depth and warmth. © TiVo
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Classical - Released August 1, 2008 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
Crisp colors, clean textures, and bracing tempos have been the hallmarks of Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra's series of recordings of Beethoven's nine symphonies. This approach works better in some works than others. The Third, for example, though tight and firm, was too light to deal with the weighty issues of the music. But this coupling of the Second and Seventh is much more successful. Both works are among the slighter in Beethoven's canon, and the Second's racing tempos and the Seventh's buoyant rhythms respond much better to Vänskä's treatment. As previously in his cycle, Vänskä finds new things in these familiar scores -- details of articulation in the Second's opening Adagio, for example, and rhythmic inflections in the Seventh's Allegretto -- that make the music sound new, and his direct, unaffected interpretations make it sound fresh. And as always, the Minneapolis-based orchestra plays deftly for its Finnish leader: the ensemble is seamless, the balances flawless, and the enthusiasm infectious. Recorded in BIS' best super audio digital sound, this may be the disc to start with if you're thinking of trying the Vänskä/Minnesota cycle. © TiVo
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Symphonic Music - Released May 3, 2011 | BIS

Booklet
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Symphonic Music - Released September 1, 2007 | BIS

Booklet
Vol. 1 of BIS' complete Sibelius edition contains the Finnish master's complete orchestral tone poems, including alternate versions of some. While the alternative versions included here have already been released, the opportunity to have them all in one place may understandably prove irresistible to dedicated Sibelius fans. Most of the performances here are by the Lahti Symphony Orchestra under the direction of Osmo Vänskä, though both sets of Scènes historique are by the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra under Neeme Järvi. And while the Lahti/Vänska performances are usually quite a bit better than the Gothenburg/Järvi performances, that is, a bit tighter, tauter, harder, and more driven, the chance to hear both versions of masterpieces like En Saga, the Lemminkäinen Suite, and Finlandia, as well less known works like In memoriam, Cassazinoe, and especially the elusive Oceanides, will compel any self-respecting enthusiast to get this set -- and a similar treatment will probably convince the listener to get the remaining 12 volumes, as well. As always, BIS' digital sound is clean, clear, colorful, and very vivid. © TiVo
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Classical - Released November 16, 2010 | BIS

Booklet
Since the 1960s, the six symphonies of Carl Nielsen have become firmly established in the repertoire, though complete recordings of them have been comparatively scarce. That's why this box set from BIS is a welcome offering, and Nielsen collectors will also be glad to have the Helios Overture, Saga-Drøm, and Pan and Syrinx, which round out the three discs. Perhaps the performances of the symphonies by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Osmo Vänskä, will not be everybody's favorite, because they are interpreted with an unsentimental approach that at times makes the music quite rigorous, severe, and even combative, especially in the last three symphonies. However, with this seriousness comes considerable excitement, especially in the Symphony No. 5, which has probably never had a more volatile climax in the first section, nor a more thrilling presentation of the fugues in the second. This is not to say that Vänskä eschews beauty, for there are many lovely passages of an idyllic nature that he handles with grace and ease, and the abundant lyricism of the early symphonies is certainly given its due. Vänskä conducts the Lahti Symphony Orchestra in the filler pieces, and the performances are of equal quality and similar character to the symphonies. BIS provides exceptional sound in all these all-digital recordings, which were made between 1999 and 2006. © TiVo
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Classical - Released June 29, 2010 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
Newcomers to the symphonies of Anton Bruckner should be excused for being a little confused by all the different versions and editions that exist, for even aficionados occasionally encounter a hitherto unknown version of a symphony that challenges their expertise and opinions. This hybrid SACD of Bruckner's Symphony No. 4 in E flat major, "Romantic," presents not the original 1874 version, which many young conductors find the most interesting to record, nor even the 1878-1880 version, which is the most widely performed, but the third version of 1888, which was published in 1890, though subsequently rejected by scholars as inauthentic. While Bruckner approved all the changes in this revision, the copying of the music was done by the brothers Joseph and Franz Schalk, along with Ferdinand Löwe, students of the composer who were later criticized for tampering with the other symphonies in misguided efforts to popularize them. While there is still reason to suspect any versions associated with these well-meaning but compromising acolytes, the fact that Bruckner consented to the publication of this version suggests that it should at least be heard, if not necessarily regarded as an officially sanctioned edition. There are numerous minor changes in the orchestration, dynamic markings, and secondary parts, enough so that people who know this symphony well will be a little disconcerted by them. Overall, the music is the same as the second version and the form of the symphony is basically unchanged, except for some transitional music between the Scherzo and the Trio. But the additional filigree parts in the woodwinds, the sharper accentuation in many spots in the timpani part, the overly lush writing for strings and winds, and the ludicrous insertion of a cymbal crash in the Finale are just a few examples of gilding the lily, as if the symphony in any of its earlier guises had been too boring or too rough and needed gussying up. The amount of touching up leads one to guess the revisionist hands of the Schalks and Löwe were too busy, or their arguments were too persuasive, and Bruckner's assent may not have been as authoritative as it seems. In any event, this performance by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra gives us a vivid recording with which to judge this rarely heard edition. But as enthusiastically and as superbly as Vänskä and the Minnesotans play it, the character of this version comes off as un-Brucknerian when compared to any of his later works. The touch-ups stand out as inauthentic because they were never incorporated or developed later in the canon. Had Bruckner orchestrated as lavishly in his Symphony No. 5, or even kept the disputed cymbal crash in his Symphony No. 7, those might have been used as evidence to support the changes in the Symphony No. 4. But later Bruckner sounds more like an outgrowth of the 1878-1880 version, and its modest orchestration and transparent counterpoint fit with the style of his least revised symphonies. The strangeness of this version is the best argument against it being taken too seriously, so this recording, excellent as it is, is mostly recommended for students of Bruckner's symphonies who need to know what unnecessary changes the Schalks and Löwe wrought. © TiVo
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Symphonic Music - Released February 1, 2001 | BIS

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Choral Music (Choirs) - Released January 1, 2007 | BIS

Hi-Res Booklet
Most of the music on this disc has never been recorded before, and it presents a Sibelius different from the one most listeners are used to, at least outside Finland. Some of these works were originally written for male choir, while others were arranged for the ancestor of the choir that performs on this recording, the YL Male Voice Choir of the University of Helsinki. The music, arising during an era in which Finland was in the middle of a long process of throwing off Russian control, runs on a continuum from Wagner-like interest in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala, to out-and-out patriotic songs like the "Jääkärien Marssi, Op. 91a." Several of the pieces are semi-dramatic cantatas with big, unsubtle effects quite unlike the elaborate logic of the later Sibelius orchestral music, but there are also links in orchestration and thematic material to Sibelius' earlier instrumental music; sample track 4, Vapautettu Kuningatar, for instance, which is of a piece stylistically with much of the Symphony No. 2. The YL Male Voice Choir obviously sings from a position of great familiarity with the music, executing everything cleanly and vigorously. This includes the long, often rhythmically very free "Rakastava" (The Lover), which is a real challenge for choral singers with its mixture of harmonic density, a rather bombastic quality, and a complex relationship between choir and soloists. The accompaniment from Finland's Lahti Symphony Orchestra under Osmo Vänskä is solid, and in general, although this music may not be for everybody, this disc is a must for Sibelius lovers who may not have fully appreciated that his nationalist streak did not begin or end with Finlandia. Notes are in English, Finnish, German, and French, but texts are in Finnish and English only. © TiVo