These performances of the complete Beethoven Symphonies were recorded live at the Konzerthaus Freiburg between December 1997 and February 2000. They have previously surfaced as a 5 CDset on the Hanssler Classics label. Gielen also has another recorded cycle of these works on EMI (1998) which are now out-of-print and, even in the second-hand market are extremely difficult to obtain as a set.
As a complete cycle of the Beethoven Symphonies I found this set very enjoyable. The symphonies are performed on modern instruments and, generally speaking, tempi are brisk, more akin to the performances one finds on period instrument collections. However, in the main, I did find them compelling. There is energy and yet a warmth in Gielen’s conducting. Textures are transparent and he elicits great precision from the orchestra. This, to me, is no-nonsense Beethoven. It is a very lean approach to the symphonies. I do not think, however, that he penetrates the depths of these symphonies to the same extent as, for instance, Furtwangler does, but Gielen does share many insights into these works with the listener.
Having watched and listened to all the symphonies here, I would single out symphonies 4 and 7 as being the best and most effective performances. Symphonies 2 and 5 have opening movements which are very brisk, perhaps too much so for some, but I did think the performances worked. The problematic symphony for me was no. 6. The opening movement is too fast and as a whole the symphony sounded superficial. In fact, I would go as far to say that it sounded rushed and frantic.
Gielen is one of the least flamboyant conductors I have ever seen grace the podium. His conducting manner is very restrained and sober. He conducts from a score and is very undemonstrative. Camera work is very good and well-judged, and adds to the enjoyment of the works. Apart from one or two reservations regarding tempi and the less than successful performance of the 6th symphony, this set can be recommended.