For quality of presentation this is the set to buy. EMI have excelled with the packaging, opting for a box with slide-out drawer, opened via a tab of green silky material, holding the 5 CDs, each of which is presented in a card wallet with full track details and times. The presentation box artwork is second to none, the front showing an almost-smiling Sir Simon Rattle, the rear showing a view of him from behind, hands clasped in self-satisfied stance.
Also included in the box is a 90 page (30 in English) hard backed booklet, printed on quality paper showing the track listing, details of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, notes on the Urtext editions and of course pictures of Rattle, Beethoven, Beethoven's home in Vienna, the orchestra, and much more. The booklet interestingly includes the year in which each symphony was composed and first performed.
Before purchasing this set I noticed the words `live recordings' on the rear of the box, and was concerned there may be audience noise or, even worse, applause between movements. Thankfully there is no such interference and no evidence of any ambient noises from the audience if in fact there was one.
The sound quality is outstanding, with each instrument clearly separated and audible, and although the interpretations may not suit everyone's taste (such as tempo changes), the performances are simply stunning. The energy level throughout is relentless, with an edginess to the playing which creates a real feeling of passion and an urgency to the music. Rattle's conducting certainly brings out the best in the performers, even if that means upsetting some who prefer their cycle a little more sedately played.
Everyone will have an opinion on these interpretations, with the usual debate upon the merits of each movement of each symphony, but I simply love these for their enthusiastic and dynamic performance.