I have had this set for a month or two now and have wanted to write a review, but I have been overwhelmed by the idea of critiquing every symphony because each recording is so outstanding in its own right that I wanted to say something about each one. I realize that a few words about some of the recordings say volumes about the whole set.
First of all, one of the reviews suggested that this set was more classical in interpretation than the 'bombastic romantic' interpretations by Solti, von Karajan or Furtwangler and even Bruno Walter. Toscanini was a speed [fan] although tender moments do pop out. Another brought out his experience with all of the sets of his Beethoven recordings and tried to compare them.
I say that this set is incomparable because there is no set out there to compare it with, because the set has its bombastic moments and tender, classical moments, if you will. For instance, the larghetto movement of the second symphony, which is a struggle between major and minor melodies in only the way Beethoven could weave them. After the recapitulation of the two themes and toward the end of the movement there is an ascending melody lower strings answered in a descending theme by the violins that is so wonderfully and romantically played, the strings soar so beautifully (Muti has a way with Maestoso, such as a passage in the first movement of Tchaikovsky's sixth in a descending scale by the orchestra ) the majesty is astounding. That is not 'classical'! His recordings of the 2nd and 4th are like no others. Maestro Muti also brings out melodies that I have never heard in any other Beethoven redordings. The fifth is a marvel of invention, I know every single note of this symphony by heart and the Maestro brings out things I haven't heard before. The adagio and the finale of the seventh are so wonderful. The second and third movements are a marvel in the 9th also.l also think that the eigth is a marvel. I have heard at least 100 performances of it and non other compare. The third is also a wonder. And to have the overtures. What a wonderful bonus. I almost forgot to mention the 'Pastoral'. I had been waiting for years and years to listen a recording that matched Bruno Walter's old recording of it. The reason is the majesty of the last movement. All the recordings that I owned or listened to did not come close (maybe Ormandy did), but this one did and I am so greatful. I usually graded a Beethoven set by the sensitivity of the sixth. (I used to have several sets of Beethoven but all was lost in a fire several years ago).
I cannot end without saying something about the Philadelphia Orchestra's playing. I have said before that Maestro Muti brought a refinement to the orchestra that, I think, adds to their virtuosity. They play so powerfully as well as beautifully. The strings in the second and eigth symphonies as well as the sixth and seventh. The brass powerful yet sensitive. I guess that I could go on and on. I am an unashamed PHO lover and devotee and have been most of my life. I wish the Maestro hadn't left because Sawallisch has brought back the power without the refinement, like he is playing a piano, not a great orchestra. It is just too bad that Maestroes Muti and Ormandy didn't have the new hall to play and record in. I understand that there are also new recordings with the PHO on Deutche Gramaphon. I can hardly wait to hear them. BPO, CSO, CCO Amsterdam, VPO, yes they are great orchestras but PHO you are in your own class and always have been.