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Beethoven: Complete Symphonies Box set

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  • Performer: Charlotte Margiono, Birgit Remmert, Rudolf Schasching, Robert Holl
  • Orchestra: Chamber Orchestra of Europe, Schoenberg Choir
  • Conductor: Nikolaus Harnoncourt
  • Composer: Ludwig van Beethoven
  • Audio CD (16 Sept. 1991)
  • SPARS Code: DDD
  • Number of Discs: 5
  • Format: Box set
  • Label: Teldec
  • ASIN: B000000SDB
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 112,716 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. Symphony No. 1 In C Major, Op. 21: Adagio molto - Allegro con brio
2. Symphony No. 1 In C Major, Op. 21: Andante cantabile con moto
3. Symphony No. 1 In C Major, Op. 21: Menuetto: Allegro molto e vivace
4. Symphony No. 1 In C Major, Op. 21: Finale: Adagio - Allegro molto e vivace
See all 8 tracks on this disc
Disc: 2
1. Symphony No. 6 In F Major, Op. 68 'Sinfonia pastorale': Allegro ma non troppo - Awakening Of Joyful Feelings On Arrival In The Country
2. Symphony No. 6 In F Major, Op. 68 'Sinfonia pastorale': Andante molto moto - Scene At The Brook
3. Symphony No. 6 In F Major, Op. 68 'Sinfonia pastorale': Allegro - Merrymaking Of The Country Folk
4. Symphony No. 6 In F Major, Op. 68 'Sinfonia pastorale': Allegro - Thunderstorm
See all 9 tracks on this disc
Disc: 3
1. Symphony No. 2 In D Major, Op. 36: Adagio molto - Allegro con brio
2. Symphony No. 2 In D Major, Op. 36: Larghetto
3. Symphony No. 2 In D Major, Op. 36: Scherzo: Allegro
4. Symphony No. 2 In D Major, Op. 36: Allegro molto
See all 8 tracks on this disc
Disc: 4
1. Symphony No. 4 In B Flat Major, Op. 60: Adagio - Allegro vivace
2. Symphony No. 4 In B Flat Major, Op. 60: Adagio
3. Symphony No. 4 In B Flat Major, Op. 60: Allegro vivace
4. Symphony No. 4 In B Flat Major, Op. 60: Allegro ma non troppo
See all 8 tracks on this disc
Disc: 5
1. Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125: Allegro ma non troppo, un poco maestoso
2. Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125: Molto vivace
3. Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125: Adagio molto e cantabile
4. Symphony No. 9 In D Minor, Op. 125: 1. Presto - Allegro assai - 2. Presto - Rezitativo - 3. Allegro assai vivace alla marcia - 4. Allegro ma non tanto

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Langdon on 22 Jan. 2004
Harnoncourt's Beethoven caused something of a sensation when it first appeared in 1991. Until then new Beethoven cycles were either in the German nineteenth century tradition or the hair-shirt approach of the 'authentic' brigade. To say that Harnoncourt was neither should not imply blandness, for Harnoncourt gives the most intense performances recorded since Toscanini.
Indeed these recordings often achieve what would be my ideal; a Toscanini performance with modern recording techniques. Harnoncourt uses a much smaller band and the superb Chamber Orchestra of Europe do whatever he asks of them. Sometimes one wishes that they had trouble responding to his more extreme tempi, but more of that later.
Numbers 1, 2, 4 and 8 are all superb, neither overblown nor treated like Mozartian throwbacks but full of passion combined with beauty of sound. The slow movements of the second and fourth are ravishing and their finales tinglingly virtuosic. The fifth is I think the finest on record, with a true Beethovenian visceral quality, far better for me than the chromium plated excitement of the usual top recommendation Kleiber. The seventh is even better with a finale that matches Toscanini for intensity, but with infinitely better recording.
This leaves three performances flawed to some degree. The first movement of the Eroica is surely way to fast. Harnoncourt makes Toscanini sound like Klemperer. A great shame as the rest of the symphony is superb. In the Pastoral the problem is the other way. Not so much "awakening of happy feelings on arriving in the country" as "falling asleep on arriving in the country" and here Harnoncourt does not redeem himself in the other movements.
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23 of 26 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 8 Jan. 2003
A perceptive 20th century theologian described preaching as 'logic on fire', the phrase sums-up Harnoncourt's way with Beethoven! Listening to these performances the word 'incandescent' forces itself into the mind. This is fiery, explosive and intense Beethoven. Such intense energy came as a surprise given the antipathy Harnoncourt is said, in the accompanying booklet, to feel towards the so-called agitative qualities of this music. Harnoncourt is reported to have been determined to avoid 'the mindless heroism typical of so many other interpreters'. Whatever can be said for and against these readings, 'mindless' they are not!
The impression is that Harnoncourt has rethought every phrase, dynamic, timbre, and tempo. That might produce unconvincing results; self-consciously, wilfully 'different'. To be sure, these are entirely individual-even iconoclastic-performances. But so often the solutions seem/sound 'right'-so often one finds oneself thinking, 'That's exactly how I have wanted to hear that played!' These are overwhelming performances-and more often than not overwhelmingly convincing-of these inexhaustible supreme masterpieces.
Perhaps most starting is Harnoncourt's Eroica. The pace of the first movement is like lightening scintillating across water. The climax is driven relentlessly, generating massive energy. Certainly 'heroic'! Then, with no time to catch breath, the murmurs of the Funeral March, heavy with sorrow, seemingly darker than usual after such dazzling bright 'success', tell that all is over-dark-night sweeps away the mightiest.
The 7th is also outstandingly effective-far more here than the deification of dance. This tells of the ultimate triumph of transcendental hope, life and joy-intoxicatingly effective in the ultimate peroration!
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 20 reviews
42 of 43 people found the following review helpful
Very good/interesting set of Beethoven's symphonies 10 Nov. 2005
By Aaron - Published on
Overall, I'd highly recommend Harnoncourt's cycle.

First, a little about the overall character: The symphonies are performed on a mid-sized orchestra using modern instruments (except for the horns), but with certain period performing practices. For example, there is noticably less vibrato than normal, and tempos tend to be a bit brisker than most modern instrument performances. Harnoncourt has a very individual approach, and every symphony has at least one or two surprises. Finally, for those who find it important (like me), all repeats are included.

Now, for the individual symphonies:

1, 2, & 4: I don't have vast knowledge of what these three symphonies sound like on other disks, but I think they sound great here, and are all my #1 versions.

3: The first two movements are taken on the fast side, and aside from some obscured detail in one part of the first movement, come off very well. In the first movement, the horns at the very end of the development blare so triumphantly it literally startled me the first couple of times. The last movements are pretty much standard, and also very good. My favorite so far.

5: An excellent version. I've never heard the oboe solo in the first movement sound as emotionally powerful as it does here. This version and Kleiber's are my favorites.

6: This is the most complained-about part of this set. I actually have no objections to this version, though I haven't heard any of the versions frequently cited as the best.

7: Kleiber's version is just plain better in my opinion. In Harnoncourt's last movement, the main theme tends to get buried under the "rhythm section," and the other movements don't surpass Kleiber in any way I could hear. It's still a good version, though.

8: Both have different virtues, but I think I prefer Karajan '62 over Harnoncourt's. I haven't heard a perfect version of the eighth yet.

9: Solely in terms of conducting decisions, this is my prototype for a perfect Ninth. In the second movement, I love Harnoncourt's recklessly fast acceleration into the trio, and the last half of the fourth movement is superb. This part always dragged in other versions I'd heard, but here the last ten minutes are totally exhillarating. However, the size of the orchestra and quality of the solo singers keep this from being a perfect recording. Turning up the volume almost negates the size issue, but there's no ignoring that up until the turkish march, I've heard much better singing. Still, this is the version I usually listen to nowadays.

To summarize, I think this is an excellent (albeit expensive) set. It contains the only versions of 1-4 I currently listen to, my top versions of 5 & 9, and good versions of the remaining symphonies.
42 of 46 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Beethoven 8 Aug. 2000
By Gregory M. Zinkl - Published on
I paid full price for this set when I was a broke graduate student. It was an investment definitely worth making!
Harnoncourt's conducting can be quite tiring; accents way overdone, tempi rushed here, phrases dragged there. But this recording, well, Harnoncourt emerges as one of The Great Beethoven interpreters.
Let's start off with the approach. It's a compromise between period instruments and modern instruments. For the most part, it's all modern instruments that play in an "authentik" style. My predisposed response would usually be: "Well, that's doomed for failure!" Turns out, that response would not have considered the brilliance of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, an amazing ensemble that is as chimeric as you desire. They execute Harnoncourt's conception with blazing intensity, accuracy, and enthusiasm.
Harnoncourt's conception: a little more quick than most, maybe slower than some conductors with period bands, but it's all wonderful. Take symphonies 1 and 2. Masterpieces that aren't performed enough. They smile in his hands. They startle. They provoke. That's what they should be! Have you noticed the very first two chords of No. 1? Geez, what was LvB thinking of? They symphony sounds like it should end before it's started--and Harnoncourt gives you that impression.
And so it goes. Other reviewers seemed to have found No. 6 eccentric. I find it to be wonderful, and totally different than my expectations (which were: dismal failure. He'll go too fast, or be pushy). It bubbles and gurgles! No. 9 is the only one that didn't wow me, but it's hardly a bad peformance. Furtwangler really has a stranglehold on the ninth for me.
Wonderful music, great engineering, good documentation.
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
Finest Beethoven cycle for sure. 30 April 2000
By J. Luis Juarez Echenique - Published on
Harnoncourt sees the Beethoven symphonies from the XVIII Century onwards, rather than from Bruckner backwards. The gain is obvious: clearer string lines, woodwinds and brass far better balanced (remember that Toscanini used to double them and what a mess they made). The playing of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe is of the highest order, they easily match the BPO or the VPO in their finest days. Harnoncourt is very consistent through out, there are no "weak" movements in any symphony, let alone a whole symphony that is less than excellent. Please disregard the Gramophone recommendation which would like you to believe that Sir Colin Davis recent Staatskapelle cycle in Philips is the best digital version, of course it's not. Davis is no longer the exciting conductor he was in the 60's, now Harnoncourt leads the way into Beethoven's sound world. By the way, if you want to complement Harnoncourt's vision try to add to your collection Jordi Savall's fiery "Eroica" in Auvidis and Herreweghe's Ninth Symphony in Harmonia Mundi.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
One of the great Beethoven symphony cycles 2 Jan. 2001
By John Kwok - Published on
Many have rightfully described this as the definitive Beethoven symphony cycle, with Nikolaus Harnoncourt demonstrating that he is one of the finest interpreters of Beethoven. Here he leads the 50 member Chamber Orchestra of Europe through exhilirating performances of the the first five and last three symphonies; virtually all of these can be described as definitive. The only weak link is the 6th Symphony; a good performance which doesn't seem nearly as compelling as those conducted by Karl Bohm or Bruno Walter. Harnoncourt literally invented the practice of using authentic period instruments to play Baroque and Classic music, but here he follows a more traditional approach; his sole omission is the use of natural (valve-less) trumpets. His brisk, energetic conducting of these symphonies, based on his own independent scholarship, is quite akin to those like Zinman and Abbado who have adhered to the new Jonathan Del Mar-edited scores. Yet Harnoncourt is much more successful than either Zinman or Abbado in probing the depths and extolling the richness of Beethoven's symphonic music. The set also includes Hartmut Krones' conversation with Nikolaus Harnoncourt, revealing the conductor's views of the scores, and a terse set of fine notes detailing their structure and history of composition.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Typical Harnoncourt 8 Dec. 2010
By Prescott Cunningham Moore - Published on
Many listeners are already familiar with Harnoncourt's Beethoven cycle, previously released without the overtures, the mass, and the concertos. Those that have not heard this set or are unfamiliar with Harnoncourt are in for a treat, so long as they approach Harnoncourt's interpretations with open ears.

Indeed, across the board, Harnoncourt is up to his usual antics in this set. And I say that with all due respect to this great conductor, who's forays into Haydn I consider reference performances and who's Bruckner is revelatory. However, Harnoncourt is always controversial for his unique sense of discovery, and that quality certain pervades this set. Take, as a case study, the first movement of the Eighth, where Harnoncourt touches every measure with unique phrasing markings, extreme dynamics, and quirky punctuations. At times, his ideas can be somewhat off-putting or even strange. Take, for example, how the timpani and lower strings emphasize the three four time by accenting the downbeat during the C major cadence at the close of the exposition. Interesting, yes, but it covers up the violin figures and comes off more grotesque and vulgar than exciting. Or listen to how Harnoncourt's overly muscular handing of the beginning of the recapitulation almost completely covers the lower strings. On the other hand, listen to Harnoncourt's delightful handling of the declamatory two-four rhythmic outbursts where he really emphasizes the syncopated quality of the music. Or listen to how he really adds extra excitement to the already over-charged development with thrilling brass playing. Harnoncourt unearths many details and certainly presents this too-familiar music in a new light.

Another example is Harnoncourt's sixth, which was controversial then and remains an acquired taste. Harnoncourt's incredibly relaxed and "legato heavy" first movement really takes the cheerful title to heart. It is not the overwhelming joy of Toscanni and Vanska or the heartwarming cheer of Bohm or Dohnanyi - rather, it is a warm but restrained calm upon entering the country that never really seems to reach happy. Harnoncourt is saving true happiness for the finale - a valid interpretive idea - but it still results in underplayed first and second movements.

But when at his best, Harnoncourt can create magic like few other conductors. His seventh is a case-in-point, a reference performance if there ever was one. The finale is just the finest on disc, period. He takes it at a ferocious clip, but unlike Abbado in his first Berlin cycle, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe plays with a virtuosic flair that is nothing short of astounding. It must be heard to be believed!

Listeners who crave something new from the canonic nine would we well served to get this set. At the same time, listeners interested in purchasing just two or three sets of the Beethoven symphonies (really, who can own just one?) may be better served by other cycles. Szell's reference cycle is a nice alternative, as is Blomstedt, Bohm, Gardiner, Toscanini, or, more recently, Vanska or Jarvi. Still, Harnoncourt's cycle is absolutely necessary for those who want a well-rounded Beethoven collection. While his interpretations may be unconventional, I still find myself returning to this cycle and always find new surprises upon each hearing.
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