A Distinguished Discography: Minnesota Orchestra recordings with Osmo Vänskä

by Luke Taylor, Minnesota Public Radio
October 4, 2013

ST. PAUL, Minn. — As Osmo Vänskä departs for the next chapter of his career, he leaves a powerful legacy of recordings with the Minnesota Orchestra. Here is a rundown of those works.

Beethoven: Symphonies No 4 & 5 (BIS 1416) Release date: Jan. 25, 2005

This first release by Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra built on Vänskä's Beethoven work with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. This disc contains the complete Symphony No.4 in B flat major, Op.60, and Symphony No.5 in C minor, Op.67.

Released to critical acclaim in the U.S., U.K., France and Germany, this album was the Editor's Choice in Gramophone for March 2005, about which it wrote, "Osmo Vänskä's readings are full of character and imagination and, in his Minnesota orchestra, he has the perfect ensemble to support his approach."

"This disc was a first in a number of ways," says Classical MPR Music Director Rex Levang. "Vänskä's first recording with the orchestra, their first disc on the highly regarded BIS label, and their first entry into the crowded field of complete Beethoven symphony cycles."


Beethoven: Symphonies No 3 & 8 (BIS 1516) Release date: June 27, 2006

The Minnesota Orchestra's second Beethoven release contains Symphony no 3 in E flat major, Op. 55 "Eroica", and Symphony no 8 in F major, Op. 93.

About this release, David Hurwitz of ClassicsToday.com wrote, "There's no question that Osmo Vänskä is a true Beethoven conductor. He captures the music's vitality, its eruptive character, and its dramatic syntax as well as anyone on the podium today."


Beethoven: Symphony No 9 (BIS 1616) Release date: Oct. 24, 2006

For Beethoven's Choral Symphony, Vänskä recruited soloists Helena Juntunen (soprano), Katarina Karneus (mezzo-soprano), Daniel Norman (tenor) and Neal Davies (bass-baritone), and the Minnesota Chorale. Gramophone gave the singers high marks, describing them as "an excellent group of soloists and a well drilled chorus who sing as if they really know (and mean) what they're singing."

This album was nominated for a Grammy, and Gramophone praised Vänskä for his "radical re-think" of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9.


Beethoven: Symphonies No 1 & 6 (BIS 1716) Release date: Jan. 1, 2008

Recorded in 2007 and released on New Year's Day 2008, James Leonard in AllMusic praised this recording for "the strength, agility, and lucidity Vänskä and the Minnesotans bring to the table."


Beethoven: Symphonies No 2 & 7 (BIS 1816) Release date: Aug. 21, 2008

The fifth and final disc in the Minnesota Orchestra's Beethoven Symphony Cycle begins with Symphony No. 2 in D Major, Op. 36, a piece that came out of a period in Beethoven's life when he was struggling with the onset of his deafness. The disc concludes with Symphony No. 7 in A Major, Op. 92, a piece that includes among its fans none other than Richard Wagner.

BBC Music Magazine described this disc as "a superb conclusion to a worthwhile cycle."


Stephen Paulus's oratorio album: To Be Certain Of The Dawn (BIS 1726) Release date: March 31, 2009

File this one under "local music." Not only is the work by Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus, it was commissioned by the Basilica of Saint Mary in Minneapolis as a gift to the Jewish community in memory of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust, with an underlying message about humanity, love and respect for future generations.

The work is performed by a richly talented roster: In addition to Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra, the recording includes the voices of Barry Abelson (cantor), Elizabeth Futral (soprano), Christina Baldwin (mezzo-soprano), John Tessier (tenor) and Philip Cokorinos (bass-baritone), plus the Minnesota Chorale, Minnesota Boychoir, The Basilica Cathedral Choir and The Cathedral Choristers.

"Apart from the sweep of its music and poetry," says Classical MPR's Levang, "this recording is also a reminder of Osmo Vänskä's commitment to contemporary composers."


Tchaikovsky: Romantic Piano Concertos Vol. 50; Concertos 1, 2 & 3/ Concerto Fantasia (Hyperion 67711) Release date: April 13, 2010

The 50th volume in Hyperion's Romantic Piano Concerto series, the label brought together Stephen Hough — who had performed all four concertos at the 2009 BBC Proms — with Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra.

About Hough's performance, London's Sunday Times wrote, "Sparks fly thanks to his outstanding conductor."


Bruckner: Symphony No 4 (BIS 1746) Release date: June 29, 2010

Written by Anton Bruckner in 1874, the Minnesota Orchestra referred to the 1888 publication for its interpretation of Symphony no 4 in E flat major, WAB 104 "Romantic".

"Once again, Vänskä observes Bruckner's variations in tempi and ritardandi, holding everything in proportion and maintaining a sense of flow and scale both human and grandly architectural," wrote Dominy Clements of MusicWeb International, ". . . this is a tremendous performance and recording of Bruckner's Symphony No.4."

In his review in the Financial Times, Andrew Clark asserted, "I find Vänskä's dynamism effective on its own terms, and his Midwestern orchestra responds to his will with flawless spirit, avoiding the brassiness that can mar American orchestras' performances of Bruckner."


Beethoven: Piano Concertos 4 & 5 (BIS 1758) Release date: Jan. 2, 2011

After completing their Beethoven Symphony cycle, Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra turned their attention to Beethoven's piano concertos. Pianist Yevgeny Sudbin joined the Minnesota Orchestra for these recordings of Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, Op. 58, and Piano Concerto No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 73 "Emperor".

Of these recordings, the FT's Andrew Clark wrote, "Sudbin brings delicacy and crystalline articulation to these concertos, creating a sense of classical grace rather than romantic scale . . . Osmo Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra prove equally sympathetic accompanists."


Sibelius: Symphonies No 2 & 5 (BIS 1986) Release date: Jan. 21, 2012

Picking up a labor of love he had begun while with the Lahti Symphony Orchesta, Osmo Vänskä began recording the works of composer Jean Sibelius. On this disc are Vanska's fellow Finn's Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43, and Symphony No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 82.

Although he gave this recording a tepid review, The Guardian's Andrew Clements posited, "Under Vanska's leadership, the Minnesota Orchestra has moved into the top echelon of U.S. bands."

Classical MPR's Levang says, "Having finished his Beethoven cycle, Vänskä now brought his trademark attention to detail, dynamics and pacing to the composer he's most associated with, Sibelius."


Sibelius: Symphonies No 1 & 4 (BIS 1996) Release date: March 26, 2013

In their final recording together, Vänskä and the Minnesota Orchestra performed Jean Sibelius's Symphony No. 1 in E minor, Op. 39, and Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 63.

These disparate symphonies on the same disc earned an Editor's Choice from Gramophone Magazine, and it compelled BBC Music Magazine's Michael Scott Rohan to call Vanska's renditions a "next-generation Sibelius cycle." Rohan observed that Vänskä turned "from the poetic Lahti orchestra to the full-blooded Minnesota sound."

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