When I was growing up, this seemed to be the set of Beethoven Symphonies to go for. I used to love the covers with the number of the symphony in various designs [the 5 on a pedestal, the 3 on fire etc]. Karajan recorded complete cycles in the 1950s with the Philharmonia and recorded sets in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s with the Berlin Philharmonic. This is a review of the 1970s recordings; I do not feel qualified to judge on which was the best of the 4 sets but I would say that they all say something unique about Karajan's approach to Beethoven.
The first thing I would say about Karajan as a conductor in this music is that he is never boring. Having had a wonderful 7 hours listening to each symphony in succession, I never felt the urge to go off and do something else or wish he would just get on with it. Instead, I marvelled at his interpretive understanding of the music and the consistency of his approach.
There are always caveats. Although these performances are thrilling and exciting in places, they are also very civilised. It does feel like a superbly engineered Mercedes Benz that can drive at high speeds without giving any impression that the engine is under any strain. Long experience of Beethoven makes me prefer the music to sound more raw and revolutionary. This doesn't sound like music to storm the barricades.
Having said that, I don't think that I have heard a better recording of the 9th Symphony than the one in this set. It really sets of the cycle and is superbly sung and played in every department.
Whatever misgivings I have voiced, I still recommend this set very highly and think that no-one should be disappointed in owning it.