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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting, if eccentric, set
I'm giving this four stars as a warning to prospective buyers, particularly those who are new to them, that, although this is an extremely interesting approach to the Beethoven symphonies, it is very unlikely that you would want them as a baseline set. For that, my recommendation would be the John Eliot Gardiner set, Beethoven: 9 Symphonies /ORR · Gardiner, but I know...
Published on 4 July 2009 by John Ferngrove

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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Disastrous and the Ugly
Beethoven Symphonies 1 - 9. London Classical Players and the Schutz Choir of London. With Yvonne Kenny, Patrick Power, Sarah Walker and Petteri Salomaa. Recorded 1987 to 1989. EMI/Virgin.

This cycle obviously purports to do something fresh and spontaneous. In the end result, however, these recordings smack you in the face and the scrappy playing and overly...
Published on 30 Mar 2012 by Ryan Kernaghan


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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very interesting, if eccentric, set, 4 July 2009
By 
John Ferngrove (Hants UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
I'm giving this four stars as a warning to prospective buyers, particularly those who are new to them, that, although this is an extremely interesting approach to the Beethoven symphonies, it is very unlikely that you would want them as a baseline set. For that, my recommendation would be the John Eliot Gardiner set, Beethoven: 9 Symphonies /ORR · Gardiner, but I know that there would be quite a few alternative choices before coming to this one. Before going any further I would state emphatically that the playing throughout is of wonderful, and at times astonishing, precision, clarity and vigour. All controversy arises from the interpretations that Mr Norrington's is asking from his players.

Another reviewer concludes that Norrington 'does not deliver'. I don't see it as quite that simple. Some of the symphonies he delivers superbly, particularly those that are traditionally considered of secondary significance. However, it is with those symphonies that are customarily considered the 'greats' that his approach becomes questionable, at times seeming to be downright perverse. Mr Norrington is a serious musicological scholar so I am in no position to argue how closely he has arrived at more 'authentic' interpretations. All I can say is that I embraced the Eliot Gardiner set precisely because 20th Century interpretations, particularly as exemplified by Karajan, were becoming overblown almost to the point of farce.

Thus the No.1 on this sets is in many respects the jewel of the box. Rather than being a lightweight homage to his mentors as it is usually presented, you are hit with something of amazing vivacity, which seems to be a summary of the state of the art as it then stood, and a statement of intent prior to the great breaking of the mould that was to follow. Similarly Nos 4 and 8, traditionally the also-rans of the Beethoven symphonies, are polished up and given superb outings that are determined not to be written off as afterthoughts.

His rendering of No.7 is probably my next favourite of the set, particularly the ferocious final movement. Here, it is the clarity of the top-speed virtuoso playing that lets one hear the full artistry of the counterpoint being deployed that even the best of other, probably larger orchestras, tend to turn into a muffled hum. His No.2 is fine but not remarkable. Indeed it would be hard pressed to compete with Gardiner's No.2, which was the revelatory performance of that box. Again, Norrington's 5 is fine without being remarkable, at least to my ears.

Now we come to the problematic ones:

No.3, the mighty Eroica is considered a turning point in Western culture. Norrington chooses to present the unprecedentedly grave and funereal slow movement rather faster than just about anybody I've heard before. Fair enough, it was precisely the hammed up ponderousness of this movement as given by Karajan that set me on the hunt for more authentic performances. However, while Norrington's rendering of the movement is itself good to listen to, the result of its brevity is to leave the whole symphony a very much diminished experience. The slow movement needs to be painfully slow, it's the whole point of the symphony even if a little uncomfortable. Lighten it up too much and one is left with mere exuberant froth.

No.6: The first two movements are just far to fast, even though the last three are performed gorgeously. Beethoven prefaced his first movement with words akin to 'warm feelings on arrival in the countryside'. In Norrington's case this should be paraphrased as 'feelings on arrival in the countryside in a big red Ferrari'. Whatever the scholarship I cannot believe that Beethoven meant these movements to sound like this.

Finally No.9: Fine up to the third slow movement. The beautiful adagio is again, meant to be a little painful, but Norrington is quick to get it over and done with. After that it is just all wonky. What should be fast is slow, while what should be slow is fast. The famous 'search for the Ode to Joy theme' is rendered with an almost pantomime off handedness. The incredible fugue at the heart of the final movement, which should be the crescendo of the whole work, is delivered with plodding exhaustion, the whole thing having peaked to early.

So, in summary. The low price of this set makes it a valuable addition for any lovers of these works wanting to acquire excellent alternative takes on some of them, particularly those that are usually more neglected. They should however be prepared to be somewhat surprised at the performances of some of the major works. Sincere newcomers to the works should avoid this set with prejudice, no matter the price tag, if they are to avoid having their ears ruined for life with regard to their receptivity to these mighty cornerstones of Western Civilisation.
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30 of 36 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Norrington is Fun and Important, 19 Jun 2005
This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
Everyone needs a Norrington take on Beethoven - especially at such a low price. I grew up on Karajan Beethoven - it nearly killed me off Ludwig for life. Dull, portentous, self important and slow. Unfortunately, most conductors still seem to believe that this is the only way to approach Beethoven. Even the Harnoncourt set suffers this - especially his 9th. Norrington, however, brings Beethoven to life - especially Beethoven the humourist, the imaginative. While this means that the 3rd, 5th and 7th come off a bit light, it means that 2, 4, 6, 8 and most of the 9th are simply glorious. As long as you don't come to these with some idea that Beethoven's music is some sacrosanct "great" text, there is plenty to enjoy and, sometimes, enrage.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A superb cycle....., 24 Jan 2008
By 
John David Charles Hilton "Creative spark...." (Redcliffe, Bristol United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
It's all too easy when discussing Beethoven symphony cycles to get bogged down in technical details as to how to interpret this or that tempo marking and lose sight of the performances. No cycle, be it Harnoncourt or Karajan, is ever going to please everybody and this set is no exception.

The playing is full, yet still sprightly and the rhythms are delightful and carefully weighted. This isn't Karajan, so the tuttis don't have the same impact, but then it also lacks the bombast that creeps into Karajan's performances. Norrington draws passionate playing from The London Classical Players and the set just seems 'right'.

This is 'period performance' but where The Hanover Band sometimes sounded thin, this is full blooded music making. The whole set is recorded beautifully. The notes are brief but useful, though I'm not sure why the cover etching is described as a photo....

All in all an excellent set in a very crowded field, it holds its own against Karajan & Harnoncourt and rises above such worthies as Barenboim and Rattle....
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Essential for the library, 13 Feb 2008
By 
BNW (Reading, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
I've not much to add to the reviews already posted. This is such a great value set that it would be foolish not to buy it. Norrington's interpretations are quirky and may not be to everyone's taste (especially if you're used to hearing more stately performances). However, I don't agree with the notion that these performances don't carry weight, in comparison to other recordings.

The feather-light touch of the LCP let's the textures breathe so much better than heavier versions, that the poignant and powerful moments in every symphony automatically grow in stature and impact.

Go on...for this price you might as well give it a try, even if you're still not convinced by the endorsements of myself and others!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars, 23 Sep 2014
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
Love this version, played on original instruments
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19 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Back to the original! Beethoven as he might have heard it!, 12 Aug 2005
By 
Michael J. Brett "Michael Brett" (London, England) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
The story goes that this is Beethoven as he might have heard it, well at least the earlier and middle symphonies before he went Mutt 'n' Jeff. The nasty Victorians and their musical successors are supposed to have changed the way his music is performed by: by speeding up the slow passages and movements, and slowing down the faster ones. They are also responsible for smoothing some of the more raucous parts, to make them more decorous.
In Norrington's recreation of the original, Beethoven's trumpets sometimes wah like car horns. This is Beethoven before he was put on a pedestal and his symphones became the gods murmering of eternal truths, mumble mumble.
I commend these performances to you, even if you couldn't stand Beethoven as you heard him by Karajan, etc. And the price, well...how can you lose? (If it all goes wrong they'll impress your guests if you use them as drinks coasters.) Buy this collection!
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31 of 46 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Puckish Beethoven, 20 Mar 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
Roger Norrington appears determined to exploit these scores as display pieces for his quick wit and quirky manner. At first hearing it can be engaging and enjoyable. Lots of unexpected twists and turns, audaciously swift ‘slow movements’ and everywhere a light-hearted, silvery elan.
But these virtues hold little promise of lasting satisfaction. And that’s how it turns out. Beyond the (frankly not very shocking) shock of the unexpected (try Harnoncourt!) and the delicious piquancy conjured by the London Classical Players from their ‘authentic’ instruments there is little on offer - little depth beneath a shimmering surface.
Quiet passages are merely that, quiet - generating no real tension, no frisson (listen to what should be the mesmerising introduction to the 4th). Climaxes erupt splendidly but are not constructed, they don’t develop or evolve and so they have little purpose beyond excitement (for example what should be the triumphant conclusion of the 7th - compare Harnoncourt!).
The set is certainly worth hearing - in his own way Norrington gives an appealing, entertaining ‘alternative view’ of these great symphonies. But these are great symphonies! - they have many more important things to say to us than will be found in these crazed performances. I could imagine that if Shakespeare’s Puck - Robin Goodfellow - were a conductor this is how he’d do Beethoven.
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8 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars The Disastrous and the Ugly, 30 Mar 2012
This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
Beethoven Symphonies 1 - 9. London Classical Players and the Schutz Choir of London. With Yvonne Kenny, Patrick Power, Sarah Walker and Petteri Salomaa. Recorded 1987 to 1989. EMI/Virgin.

This cycle obviously purports to do something fresh and spontaneous. In the end result, however, these recordings smack you in the face and the scrappy playing and overly aggressive tempos will hit listeners hard. In general, the interpretations are pushed hard and fast: often to the breaking point.

Over a few years of reading reviews and gossip on recordings of Beethoven symphonies, I get the distinct impression that this cycle is an also-ran amongst period performances. I am beginning to understand why. Admittedly, this was a pioneering set and admirers will always be wedded to this set when they think of period performance. Even though other sets with similar performing practices, like Harnoncourt, also have their problems the playing in those sets are often glorious (I am speaking of the Harnoncourt). For Norrington, it all sounds like the works are about to come apart. True, some may like this and I like my fair share of ferocity in this music too. But it's too much at times and really distorts the beauty of the music. It's always good to hear pounding percussion, but in Norrington's hands the percussion is too heavy and often destroys the whole effect of these symphonies. Strings are often thin because of their eliminated vibrato and the brass often sound insecure and messy. Some of the instruments in that section also sound like they are from a jazz ensemble: it sounds a bit bizarre and out of place to my ears.

In taking a look at each symphony, there are some virtues. The first symphonies get the best treatment, in fact, I would go as far as to say that Nos. 1 through 3 and 6 are quite good. The Eroica in particular gets quite unusual tempo adjustments in the marche funebre and they work quite well. I also liked the Pastoral: even though some tempos were a little fast it had a buoyant feeling to it and, in the storm sequence, this heightened the drama - the quirky percussion worked best in this symphony. I should also point out that the overtures in this set are excellently played, the Egmont is particularly fine.

Beyond that, many of the others range from ordinary to downright appalling. The ordinary interpretations are clearly the Fourth and the Seventh. In the former, there is not one touch of depth or contemplation, it's like a fast motorcycle being spotlit in the showroom. Some of those lovely quiet and reflective moments that the likes of Karajan and Solti explore so beautifully are completely lost on Norrington. In the Seventh, the playing is scrappy and there is not much charm. Even the fantastic allegro con brio loses its momentum. The 'downright appalling' interpretation is the Fifth in my view. I really like what Norrington does with a lot of the final movement: the great big juicy climaxes are thrilling. Also, things start off nicely in the first movement: the tempos are fast but not too much and the paired down orchestra enhances the tension. Unfortunately the playing comes apart throughout the rest: and the second and third movements, in particular, suffer from downright atrocious playing. Because of such a massive chunk of the work being massacred, it's hard to be satisfied, much less convinced. The Eighth isn't too bad, but like the Fourth, is really rather faceless and bland.

The Ninth is, diplomatically speaking, a controversial reading. There are some enjoyable climaxes in the first movement, but as with so many readings in this cycle it deteriorates and fails to convince as a whole - the finale is rushed in places and ridiculously slowed down in others. The fugue is too slow: so much so that things almost fall apart: the tension is completely lost and one almost becomes bored. Unforgivable in a work like this. The quartet sing nicely - but their vocal parts are so warped by these speeds that their contribution is soon forgotten. The whole point of the grandeur and majesty of this work is completely obscured. If you listen to this too often you'll just get angrier at irritating nonsense that passes itself off as 'enlightened' or representing the 'true' vision of Beethoven.

Overall then, I would only recommend this cycle to seasoned listeners who want a completely different ride along a well trodden path. Beginners should stay away, which is strange considering that this was actually the first cycle I owned! Some individual symphonies merit attention (like the Third and Sixth), but as a cycle seeking to compete with the very best: this is a write-off. This set represents curiosity value only. At the end of the day, I find Norrington's claims about these works to be wholeheartedly pompous and altogether missing the point. Re-interpretation is the key in Beethoven, not butchering some of the most haunting and beautiful moments in music history to try to replicate an outdated sound.
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Competent but not exciting., 26 Sep 2011
By 
Robert Brook (Buckinghamshire, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
In short, these are average readings and anything out of the ordinary in this well stocked market place is always going to have a marmite effect.

For a 'period' budget set of Beethoven symphonies then buy, but for a few pounds more, go for the Gardiner if you want 'period.'

For those new to this repertoire and wanting a 'standard' orchestra, go for a Karajan. I would recommend the 3rd of his 4 studio cycles Beethoven: 9 Symphonies; Overtures
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6 of 14 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars The Travails of Sir Roger of Norrington, 18 Feb 2012
By 
This review is from: Beethoven: Complete Symphonies (Audio CD)
In the cosmos, matter is balanced by anti-matter. Likewise in Beethoven discography, the sagacious, time-tested, composer-centric surveys by Herbie, Furtwangler, Barenboim, Szell, Solti, Jochum, Kubelik and many others require a counterpart in order to maintain an equilibrium of sorts - and that brings us to the anti-Beethoven cycle before us.

It would be easy to deride the Norrington survey as mindless, graceless, clueless, and a phenomenal waste of energy all round. It would be just as tempting to mock the London Classical Players as the most talentless band of hacks ever to be assembled beneath a microphone. Arduous though it be, one should refrain from smirking as Sir Roger sprints through the first movement of the Ninth like a greyhound - to no vivid end - or lurches his way through the Eroica with all the surety of a sleepwalker. The Pastoral sounds like a cacophonous homage to Stockhausen, and a certain metaphor re babies and bathwater comes to mind as one listens to the Seventh - but such thoughts, erroneous one and all, such be repudiated.

Yes, as easy as it would be to scoff at this cycle, one should refrain from doing so. Much like Borges' Leopard, there must be a secret purpose to its existence. Perhaps this gnosis will be revealed on Judgement Day. In the meantime, there is no reason to listen to it whatsoever.

Let it be.
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