Here are two new recordings of a tried-and-true classical chestnut, both using the new critical Bärenreiter edition. One might expect such research from young Osmo Vänskä, but it is surprising that Bernard Haitink, a senior statesman of conductors, took the trouble to rethink his position. His interpretation is full of grace and lyricism. His innovative, exciting interpretation of the last movement reminds one of a ballet; it is the best finale I have ever heard. But in dwelling on the lyrical nature of the work, Haitink does miss some of the drama, particularly in the first movement.
Using slightly faster tempos than Haitink, Osmo Vänskä finds much drama in this music, especially in the first movement. This might be a preferred reading were it not for the ridiculous polarity in dynamics. The pianissimos are so soft that the music loses momentum. The effect is so extreme that it sounds like a drop out on the analog tape. This approach is fussy and detrimental. The brisk and amiable performance of the Eighth Symphony suffers less.
Both orchestras play well. LSO Live engineers give Haitink rich, warm sound; Vänskäs engineers have achieved greater clarity at the expense of warmth. The upper violins are quite edgy. Both the LSO recording and the BIS are parts of ongoing series. BIS has released Symphonies 4 and 5 [BIS-SACD-1416] to critical acclaim, and LSO Live has released all nine Beethoven symphonies conducted by Haitink in a boxed set [LSO 0598], as well as two other discs as singles, the Sixth and Second Symphonies [LSO 582] and the Seventh Symphony, coupled with the Triple Concerto [LSO 578]. The last movement of the Seventh is electrifying, and the entire Sixth, the "Pastoral," is radiant.
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