Berlin Philharnonic and Minnesota Orchestra CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE REVIEWS CDSs OF RATTLE'S BERLIN SUCCESSOR AND A WONDERFUL SIBELIUS SYMPHONY CYCLE


BEETHOVEN, TCHAIKOVSKY, SCHMIDT & STEPHAN: Berlin Philharmonic / Petrenko ★★★

The Russian-born Vienna-educated Kirill Petrenko is Simon Rattle's successor as chief conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic. His initial concerts were greeted with adulation in some quarters. This luxurious and highly expensive box set of those concerts is now released on the orchestra's own label. We have symphonies by Beethoven (7 & 9), Tchaikovsky (5 & 6), Franz Schmidt's fourth, and a Rudi Stephan's fifteen-minute Music for Orchestra. These appear on five CDs, a BluRay video disc and an audio-only BluRay disc, with excellent sound quality in stereo and 5.1 surround sound. There is, unsurprisingly, playing of outstanding beauty – the subtle wind and burnished strings in Tchaikovsky Pathetique – and power, when Petrenko unleashes the Ninth's mighty finale. Despite the hype however, I wouldn't put these performances in the top bracket. The exception is Schmidt's elegiac symphony (the best recording I've heard) and Stephan's wonderfully quirky and energetic Bartok-meets-Berg piece.

Norman Stinchcombe

SIBELIUS COMPLETE SYMPHONIES: Minnesota Orchestra / Vanska ★★★★★

Whatever its interpretative merits the recording quality of this set is unsurpassed, especially on SACD which reveals orchestra and hall acoustic with amazing clarity. Aurally they are an upgrade on Osmo Vanska's first survey of Sibelius's symphonies with the Lahti Symphony Orchestra, also on the Bis label, which were already very fine. But what of the performances? That first cycle was greeted with unanimous acclaim but this one with reservations, which I don't understand. The Minnesota performances are slightly broader and weightier – their string section has more heft – but just as thrusting and exciting. Vanska's change of pace has benefited the tricky and underrated third and sixth symphonies while the first now matches Ashkenazy's fine Philharmonia recording. For anyone owning the Lahti set, and without an SACD player, this one isn't essential. But repackaged on four medium price CDs, including an excellent Kullervo, it's my my first- choice complete cycle.

Norman Stinchcombe

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