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81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even in a crowded market, a set that makes you hear Beethoven afresh
I had not come across Immerseel and Anima Eterna -interestingly Flemish/Dutch/German (?)and Latin for the phrase "eternal soul" - until a friend recommended this set as being outstanding in many areas. It is, and they are!

Firstly, Anima Eterna have a distinctive sound. They play the symphonies and overtures at a high "Viennese" pitch that makes for a bright...
Published on 3 Jun 2008 by Colin Fortune

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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Horticultural Experiment
I have a black thumb. I destroy flora. Last spring, I wanted to avert the usual result with my tomatoes (there's a small green-house out the back). Being aware of claims that music stimulates plant-growth, I borrowed this set from a mate. I did not want it for myself. Why would I bother with another Mickey Mouse HIPster chain-gang of no great distinction or...
Published 2 months ago by Bernard Michael O'Hanlon


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81 of 82 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Even in a crowded market, a set that makes you hear Beethoven afresh, 3 Jun 2008
By 
Colin Fortune (Birmingham, UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
I had not come across Immerseel and Anima Eterna -interestingly Flemish/Dutch/German (?)and Latin for the phrase "eternal soul" - until a friend recommended this set as being outstanding in many areas. It is, and they are!

Firstly, Anima Eterna have a distinctive sound. They play the symphonies and overtures at a high "Viennese" pitch that makes for a bright and exciting listening experience (A = 440). A so-called "original instrument" band (as opposed to a present-day symphony orchestra playing in an "historically informed" manner, as on the Norrington/Hansler set) they play on Nineteenth Century instruments or on copies of originals. The strings use thick gut strings and an assortment of different bows - we can assume the the players have eschewed the post Paginini school of fingering - playing for the most part without vibrato, and only using it very sparingly for specific effects. The double-basses use frets for increased accuracy of intonation and are tuned in fourths, a "modern" innovation in Beethoven's day, and they seem to be four string models (i.e. not three string) one at least of which can find the low C required. The horns are valveless, the trumpets long and the trombones small bore. Small and tight timpani are very much to the fore in the balance.

This orchestra is very small (twenty-four strings, rising to thirty-three in the Choral Symphony, for example) but plays within an acoustic that delivers more than satisfactory weight and heft, whilst at the same time being superbly attuned to the delicacy of much of Beethoven's writing. It is a sweet-toned orchestra and is very attractively recorded with great clarity and often impeccable balance, enabling the listener to hear internal parts of the music that more clearly than in performances by a full modern symphony orchestra. And, because anyone reading this will possibly be wondering if this holds true for the larger and more heroic works, the orchestra, soloists and 24-strong chorus pass the test of weight, gravitas and clarity with flying colours in the Finale of the great Choral symphony.

Secondly, let us dispose of the overtures that fill up the set so well. There is not a weak performance among them and although their inclusion means that the set is six discs instead of five, the current Amazon price makes the set very competitive (4.66 per disc as against 4.99 for the Mackerras/Hyperion set at present).

Now to the symphonies. Numbers 1 and 2 are witty and exhilarating, the last movements being particularly well articulated by the strings - thus showing the advantage of the instruments used.

The Eroica (Symphony 3) is very special. This is a swift performance (throughout the set the Barenreither/Jonathan del Mar editions are used, with metronome markings up to those of the manuscripts of Beethoven's day), very cleanly articulated, with the discords in the first movement emerging with unsettling clarity, a noble Funeral March at just the right tempo, and a quick Scherzo and Trio, with the three horns very well recorded and to the fore in the latter. The Finale is wonderful: setting off like an arrow towards its eventual goal it is speedy, exciting and virtuosic in the extreme.

This performance of Symphony 4 has all the poise, humour and wit that makes the work such a delight. Again the sweet intonation of the orchestra (in the context of vibrato-less string playing, of course!) is very notable, especially in the slow movement.

Symphony 5 has a concision and singleness of vision which is breathtaking. From the first notes of the famous opening to the final joyously victorious bars of the Finale we hear a speedy, noble and intensely dramatic performance. The mysterious transition section from Scherzo to Finale features some very fine playing on the timpani and some remarkably sensitive work by the strings. This is quite simply one of the best Fifths on disc.

The Pastoral is full of good things too. There is all the advantage of antiphonal first and second violins in the development section of the first movement. The "Scene by a Brook" is ravishingly played, clear and redolent of Springtime. The celebrating peasants of the third movement are certainly athletic and, it has to be said, they are disturbed by a storm that is not one of the loudest or most cataclysmic on record. On the other hand, the Finale is warmly and tenderly phrased and the whole ends most beautifully.

The Seventh is one of the best available at the moment and one of the real high-points of the set. The attack in the slow introduction to the first movement almost put me in mind of the famous 1936 Toscanini/New York recording. This is followed by a wonderfully articulated and surprisingly quick performance of the Allegro proper (exposition repeat included, of course). The allegretto "Pilgrims' March" movement that follows it seems, in comparison, quite slow, but it is up to a proper allegretto speed. The scherzo is very clearly delivered and the trumpets ring out with great confidence in the trio section. Oddly, the last movement seems to be rather slower initially that one would have expected. But it is immaculately performed with crystal-clear playing in all departments of the orchestra, building to a very intense experience indeed, capped by some notable horn playing. Superb.

I have to say that I found the Eighth symphony to be worthy of inclusion in the set, particularly because of the lightly articulated Finale. But the middle movement somehow failed to catch fire. Perhaps I did not leave enough time between listening to the remarkable Seventh and this smaller symphony.

Simon Rattle was exactly right to remark that the Ninth is split off from all the other symphonies in the cycle. Jos van Immerseel's booklet note points out that it was this symphony that Beethoven wrote whilst deaf and towards the last stages of his fatal illness. It is a huge shout against the dark and is conceived in the ideal spaces of the mind of a genius. This is why it is so difficult to perform (especially I would suppose at the pitch performed here!). This Ninth surprised me. I actually felt that the first two movements were being a little held back and that they could have flowed more speedily. On the other hand, the slightly larger forces (33 strings with the increased wind and Turkish music percussionists) playing at a steady speed built very convincing climaxes, particularly in the first movement. The slower Scherzo and presto Trio, as found in Zinman/SRO and Benjamin Zander's long deleted performances, is managed very well indeed with the transitions between the two tempi well brought off. The Adagio flows at a fluid and fastish tempo, a solution that I personally favour over reverential stillness - though I can see that this might be a problem to somebody used to conductors like Klemperer or Furtwangler in this movement. This approach in no way, I believe, sacrifices the lyrical poetry that is needed in the work at this point. Immerseel's conducting and the orchestra's response is tender and delicate in the extreme and I particularly responded well to the pizzicati in the lower strings as the underpinned the flowing melody above them. The four soloists in the Finale are as well matched as the very best on any other record. Indeed, they have distinctive voices with wonderfully clear diction. The recording seems to have a slight problem at the opening section where the chorus repeats the verse just sung by the soloist. Such is the presence of the solo singer that the chorus (all 24 singers!) sounds a little recessed. This improves markedly as the movement progresses towards the end. And at the very end, Immerseel and his performers up the speed in the coda just sufficiently to make a fine performance tremendously exciting.

This set is not just "one of many" for it has some remarkably insightful interpretations, particularly of Symphonies 3, 4, 5 and 7. The Ninth will, I think, repay several visits for there is much subtlety in its conception. Overall this is a really good set of Beethoven's symphonies, presented in attractive and clear sound and at a reasonable price. It also has something very special to say and it well deserves a place in any Beethoven lover's collection - even, and probably especially, somebody just setting out on the wonderful voyage of discovery into the human spirit that Beethoven's symphonies offer so uniquely.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Paradise never lost and yet regained, 3 Feb 2010
By 
Chyron (Antwerp, Flanders, Europe) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
Here is a Beethoven symphony cycle (again) on period instruments (again). So why should it stick out in the midst of dozens of other cycles ? Yet it does stick out.
These symphonies by Jos Van Immerseel and his small-scale orchestra Anima Eterna are all fresh, full of tintillating life. In fact, the orchestra is perfectly modelled on the size of the symphony orchestra in Beethoven's time, everything has been done in an effort to recreate the sound that Beethoven sought to create and that he would have heard (or wish to hear)himself. The details about the research and the production are explained in a well-written multilingual booklet included in the box.
The sounds. These symphonies are a wealth of sounds, I have never before heard the percussion so clearly and the same goes for practically every individual instrument and yet the music flows and sings with all instruments together, dynamically and harmoniously : this is pure heaven.
I'm very fond of Beethoven's symphonies and I have some two dozen complete cycles in my collection but this one went straight to the top as one of the very, very best.

These were my impressions after I bought the set some 18 months ago and they still hold, even though a few more cycles have since come to caress my senses (and enhance my space-consuming collection). Van Immerseel's cycle is still unique and my favourite for sheer refreshing beauty that captures the attention no matter how often you've heard the music before.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fresh sound, appropriate performances, 13 Aug 2009
By 
J. TIMMERMAN (Lawson, NSW Australia) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
Rip-snorting performances here, fast but not too much so, with lots of oomph and attention to detail. Of course with sets like this, listeners will like some better than others, as I did. Overall though these performances sound as they likely would have in Beethoven's time and that is the mark of a good period performance. Emphases on particular sections within the orchestra are often different than modern performances which makes the listening experience fresh. My favourites, the Eroica, the Seventh and Coriolan overture are exhilarating. A pity not all the overtures were included (e.g. the Leonoras) - some, perhaps not all, of those missing could have fitted without creating an extra CD. Recording quality is full and warm, the cellos and basses are especially rich and the brass is bright and clear (if occasionally a little too forward). This is passionate and exciting playing. I do recommend the similarly-exuberant and well-recorded Harnoncourt overtures CD. Likewise the Gardiner set is arguably still a rival, and there are many individual modern performances, like some of Masur's (on PHILIPS not the disastrously remixed dried-out Pentatone SACDs) and Paita's glorious Eroica, that still stand up well, but I feel as a set this one pretty well wipes the opposition off the board, both period and modern. I'll keep my other ones, but I would be happy with this set alone.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful conception and outstanding playing, 20 Sep 2009
By 
N. J. Fauvel - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
However well you know the Beethoven symphonies, if you haven't heard Immerseel's interpretations you are missing something really special. In conception and in execution these performances are outstanding. In every movement the musicians of Anima Eterna say something new, made possible by the chamber-music-like ensemble they achieve with their modest number of strings balancing the wind and brass. The virtuosity of these players on their period instruments is outstanding. The inner clarity, textures, and colours are perhaps closer to Beethoven's own conceptions and harmonic intentions than we have heard. The generally fast speeds allow rhythm and phrasing that are perhaps closer to Beethoven's melodic intentions that we are used to hearing. No single interpretation of these sublime works will ever be definitive, but you should not miss these.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Let's get this into perspective ..., 23 Jan 2010
By 
enthusiast "enthusiast" (sussex, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
This is a really good set - one of the best of the last 20 years - but for me it doesn't dominate the field to the extent that other reviews here seem to suggest. Van Immerseel's Beethoven is greatly enjoyable but it does sometimes leave me wondering whether he tells us as much about Beethoven as some other great Beethoven interpreters have. His performances are certainly very easy to live with, and they are often thrilling, but I'm not sure they are as uplifting, moving, terrifying ... as some of the best performances available.

There are a great number of really good Beethoven symphony sets before the public and numerous stunning accounts of individual symphonies. I haven't heard all (of course) but do know those of Harnoncourt (still sounding radical and yet, for me, a set of enormously and impressively successful realisations that are really standing the test of time), Gardiner (radical but not that much more than that?), Zinman (very good "modern" - which means fast paced - interpretations), Haitink (a more conventional approach yields some very fine and successful performances ... along with some less successful ones) and Vanska (intelligent and often thrilling and certainly new - takes us beyond any debate of period versus conventional performance practice - a really first rate set), Toscanini (the slightly earlier set - thrilling) ... and so on. And let's not forget Kleiber in numbers 5 and 7; Boehm in the Pastoral; Furtwangler in the Choral ....). Others will want to add many other favourites. A newcomer really does need to have something special to say to be worthwhile in this field!

How much interpretation do you want in a Beethoven symphony? Immerseel seems relatively uninterested in shaping phrases and can also sometimes seem to lack the ability to build passages so that their genius is unavoidably exposed. He seems to rely more on getting up a head of steam and letting the music - and his wonderful orchestra - talk for themselves. Yet, for the most part, he succeeds in avoiding the obvious pitfalls. Some period performances of some of Beethoven's thematic material can seem a little trite or corny in the wrong hands (Norrington is a great example of this for me) but van Immerseel has good taste!

And yet, and yet ... although, speeds are generally very fast in this set, occasionally van Immerseel's phrasing becomes a little square and the music can seem a little leaden as a result (examples are the third movements of the 4th and 8th symphonies). Compare this with Vanska, who often adopts speeds that are slower than the modern average but who nearly always makes them work for him as the logic of the music unfolds. And when it comes to exciting moments - and these symphonies are filled with moments that can be particularly thrilling - van Immerseel can seem almost tame beside the likes of Harnoncourt and Vanska.

The small orchestra of Anima Eterna are the stars of this set and Immerseel knows how to use the sounds they make to build enjoyable performances. Their virtuosity and sweet sound make for very attractive music making. There are two performances here that really are extraordinarily good - the 2nd is given an account that is as memorable and exciting as any before the public, and the Pastoral (despite a storm that is more symbolic than elemental) is also deeply impressive. Anima Eterna's sound and virtuosity are key factors in the success of these two performances.

Many of the other symphonies are also given fine performances but I am less convinced that they can be freely recommended as a first choice. Van Immerseel's account of the First is a good one. The performance of Eroica - much praised by critics - is a real cracker but does not plumb the emotional depths or scale the heights to the extent that, say, Vanska and Harnoncourt do so. The Fifth also is fast and powerful on its own terms but Vanska and Kleiber, for example, are more thrilling and seem to find more in this music than van Immerseel does.

Others are not so successful but that is probably inevitable in an inspired set. The Seventh is almost a great performance! But it is seriously let down by a rather tame and "clunky" final movement. The Choral is an attractive performance - somewhat fresher and lighter than the norm - but the sublime slow movement is not as sublime as it can be! The Fourth is an attractive and successful performance that is let down by a slightly dull third movement (Allegro Vivace). And the Eighth is very weak: it starts off sounding rather plain, begins to build some momentum but then loses it all in a dull minuet.

All in all - an excellent and immensely enjoyable set. That I have taken the time to write such a detailed review (not my normal habit!) is in part a reflection of the pleasure I took from spending time with these performances. For me these are the most rewarding of all the period instrument sets that I have heard.

A word about the presentation. The box is attractive enough but the sleeves (for the individual CDs) that I received are just plain computer CD envelopes with windows (so you have to read the small writing on the CD to know which one is which): it feels as though you have bought an illegal copy of the set! Also, each envelope arrives sealed and the sticky stuff remains as a hazard to the health of the disks inside them for some time afterwards.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Great music at bargain price., 9 Mar 2010
By 
Guilherme Canta "Guilherme Canta" (Lisboa, Portugal) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
I agree with the opinion of other reviewers.This is a superb complete set of the symphonies.
This is an excellent set if you are looking for a small orchestra playing with original period instruments and being historically accurate. This is a way to feel close to the sound idealized by Beethoven and played at his time.

When listening you will feel real close to the orchestra and will be able to listen to some nuances of the soloists that you can't listen in other performances.

In short, great music, bargain price, good quality box, superb booklet. Buy before it ends.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An especially good and convincing set of period instrument recordings, 13 Jun 2013
By 
I. Giles (Argyll, Scotland) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
This set, well recorded between 2005 and 2007, comes with an informative and thorough booklet in several languages, but each one taking up about 30 pages of text. This care for detail in the booklet is symptomatic of the care taken over the performances and recordings presented here.

Introduction:
A few salient points covered more fully in the booklet and which are of significance and may be surprising include Czerny's assurance from personal contact with Beethoven, that the composer could hear very well until 1817. This means that he was completely able to hear all of the first eight symphonies at the time of composition and knew from practical knowledge that what he asked for in print could be achieved in practice. He also sketched the first three movements of the ninth before 1817 but was totally deaf by the time he composed the last movement of the ninth.

Viennese pitch using instruments made at Beethoven's time was significantly higher than in other areas and approximated to A = 440. This is closer to modern pitch than that used by many 'period'orchestras not using Viennese instruments.

Tempi, which on modern instruments is too fast to be comfortable, is not a problem with older instruments which are invariably less powerful but more flexible than modern instruments. In the case of brass and woodwind this is a matter of bore diameter and can easily be understood by considering water flow through hosepipes. Wide bored hosepipes lack control but produce lots of volume ideal for putting out fires. Small bored hosepipes produce much more accurate jets of water which can be accurately aimed, ideal for precise watering but hopeless for fire control. Older instruments have narrower bores.

Balance between sections of the orchestra in Beethoven's time achieved though numbers of instruments used, their relative power and their tonal characteristics, was more evenly spread so that musical dialogue was more naturally achieved.

The above basic considerations make fundamental differences to the way the music can be played. In addition, the latest edition prepared by Jonathan Del Mar based on Beethoven's final score markings has corrected many previous errors. This is also the edition used by Zinman in his recent set using a small modern orchestra but with natural brass and timpani sticks of Beethoven's period.

Overall comments:
These are meticulous and thoughtful performances. Tempi are generally on the brisk side but not excessive. Beecham, Monteux, Ansermet, Erich Kleiber and the young Klemperer all played many of these symphonies at a faster pace fifty or more years ago. The performances are based on actual performing experiences which were later recorded.
Textures are far clearer than in modern performances and dialogue between the different 'voices' of the orchestra are more naturally achieved. The tonal characteristics of the instruments are less blended than with modern instruments and this differentiates between sections more obviously.
The technical skills of the players is such that there are no tuning issues and no suggestion of thin or acerbic string tone.

Overall conclusions:
This is a notable series of performances which are clearly musically led rather than academically led in terms of concept and delivery. Most decisions of tempi and phrasing are within the bounds of the acceptable norms of 'traditional' chamber orchestras but applied to an expert 'period' orchestra of moderate size. The differences thus heard are the consequences of using a period orchestra rather than using such an orchestra in order to 'make' a certain range of sounds possible.

Summary:
I would suggest that this is an important set of period performances which will affect the way listeners will view the compositions in the future. For that reason it deserves very serious consideration as a potential purchase either as an 'only' set of performances or as a comparative set. It is traditional and period enough to give pleasure to both traditionalists and period followers alike. None of the performances falls below the level of very good and many could be described as outstanding, even revelatory.

............................................

Some dialogue from the comments section that may offer further help:

I thought that you might like to know that before I buy a recording I now look through all the reviews to see if you have posted one. Your assessments and opinions are invaluable. Thank you. (US review)

I particularly like your format of review. They give the prospective purchaser an idea of the style of the playing and relevant comparisons. They are succinct. Keep up the good work! (UK review)

I'm sure there are many other serious collectors, besides myself, who wait for your synopsis and opinion before spending their hard-earned money on new releases...
Keep up the good work!
Thank you (UK review)

............................................
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13 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A song of joy, 10 Dec 2009
By 
GlynLuke (York UK) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
I am not someone who has heard all the Beethoven sets available (life`s too short for one thing) or one who simply has to hear every single recording by Furtwangler, say, or Toscanini. In fact, the cult of the conductor has something nerdish, elitist about it; there`s no reason why we can`t admit that, for example, Haitink, Mackerras or Colin Davis is equally as capable of steering a work home as well as one of the `great` conductors from some mythical golden age of music-making.
I had barely heard of van Immerseel when I listened to these sparkling, surprising and captivating interpretations of these always astonishing symphonies and overtures. Like many others I would not be without Carlos Kleiber`s peerless 5th/7th disc, or the bone-shaking, granite momentum of Klemperer`s Eroica. In fact it was the 3rd Symphony that I played first from this set - to test the waters, as it were, the Eroica being such a pivotal work both in the nine Beethoven composed, and also in the evolution of the Symphony itself.
I was entranced immediately. Mackerras and Zinman have shown how these works can be springheeled, pacy - un-Furtwanglered, or de-Klemperered, if you will - but I wasn`t prepared for the sheer beauty and unforced nobility of Immerseel`s approach.
Where Klemperer finds a massive dignity in the third (and how thrilling it is!) Immerseel and his relatively small band, Anima Eterna, gives us something of grace and quiet dignity. Beethoven`s trademark `block chords` (which Britten came to dislike) have rarely, if ever, sounded so natural, so `light` - here and in the 5th. Incidentally, the famous - one might say hackneyed - 8-note opening of the 5th has surely never been dispensed with so speedily as here. Kleiber`s deft crispness with it remains definitive for me.
If I have only concentrated on the Eroica - a friend of mine`s favourite is the 4th, so I nervously put Immerseel`s on; he was soon in raptures - it is simply because it exemplifies the many felicities and glories of this delightful, superlative, utterly musical - and, I must add, well packaged & documented - set.
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11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A personal comparison of various recordings of Beethoven's symphonies, 28 Oct 2009
By 
Rasmus Oerndrup (Copenhagen, Denmark) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: Beethoven: Symphonies; Overtures /Anima Eterna van Immerseel (Audio CD)
In this review I will try to compare various complete recordings of Beethoven's nine symphonies plus Carlos Kleiber's CD with Symphonies number 5 and 7 (on DG). Concerning Carlos Kleiber it is easily done: I will advice anybody who appreciates Beethoven (or who think they might appreciate Beethoven) to buy his CD. I doubt you can find better versions of those two works. When I mention Karajan in this review I refer only to his first complete set of Beethoven's symphonies for DG from 1963 with the Berliner Philharmoniker. The other complete sets I will write about are: Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra (Bis), Jos van Immerseel and Anima Eterna (Zig Zag), David Zinman and Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich (Arte Nova), Herbert Blomstedt and Staatskapelle Dresden (Brilliant). All orchestras mentioned here perform on modern instruments except Immerseel's Anima Eterna.

I will go through the symphonies one by one and give short comments on the various recordings. I will start in reverse order since I guess most people will be interested in the late symphonies primarily.

Karajan plays a terrific and grand 9th ("Choral") - his wild gestures and colourful style fit the work well - he is a true romantic in the first romantic symphony in musical history. It is the only 9th I have heard in which all the movements really shine, for instance in Vanska's recording only the two last movements really work for me, but then again those two are amazing - you can hear every polyphonic detail in the choral finale. Immerseel gives us a good "slim" 9th (only 33 musicians in the orchestra which though is 9 more than in the other symphonies). Zinman's recording lacks verve and excitement in the two first movements, but his adagio is pretty and the finale is gripping. A special feature in Zinman's 9th is that he plays it with Beethoven's original general pause in bar 747. Blomstedt plays a vibrant 9th with a beautiful truly romantic adagio (16+ minutes long like Karajan's) and a glorious finale. Thomas Dausgaard with the Swedish Chamber Orchestra Örebro (on Simax as part of a complete recording of Beethoven's orchestral music which I am NOT reviewing here) is - as a whole - the best recent (2009) 9th I have heard, but text and translation of Schiller's ode are not included in the booklet. Some might say that the scherzo in Dausgaard's hands is too aggressive, but I find it fresh and spirited.

Zinman gives you a good 7th but not a great one. The winning set in the 7th is no doubt Immerseel's who's ravishing exhilarating account is full of verve and vigour. Richard Wagner described this symphony as "the apotheosis of dance" and he had/has a point: This is a symphony that demands a "mobile" orchestra - a dancing orchestra. And here Immerseel and Anima Eterna have the advantage of a smaller orchestra that can really dance. Vanska's version of the 7th really disappointed me. It is simply boring - he plays it too slowly. But if you buy Carlos Kleiber's 7th in addition to Vanska's complete cycle you will be doing just fine. What I have said about the 7th also could be said about the 8th - again Immerseel's interpretation is the more lively. But I don't think you will be disappointed in this symphony with either Karajan, Zinman, Vanska or Blomstedt. Karajan's 7th and 8th are highlights of his set.

Karajan's approach is much too heavy for the "Pastoral" (the 6th Symphony). Same thing can be said about Blomstedt's. Vanska's is the best version of this light-hearted symphony (a rare example of program music in Beethoven's oeuvre). Vanska's "Scene by the brook" (the title of the 2nd movement) has a beautiful, tranquil and romantic atmosphere that I find very appealing. I didn't like the "Pastoral" before I heard Vanska conduct it. "The merry gathering of the country folk" is as merry as it should be and "Thunder Storm" really sounds like thunder. Zinman isn't bad in this one either, the 1st movement in particular conveys the "Pleasant, cheerful feelings which awaken in people on arrival in the country" to the listener.

In the first movement of the famous 5th Immerseel plays very fast (maybe too fast) and takes no prisoners. It is a very extreme approach, but it does appeal to me somehow especially because the rest of the symphony seems to follow as a logic conclusion. Vanska plays it slower and gives you time to both try to feel and figure out what Beethoven intended with this work. Karajan might be overdoing it a little bit in the 5th, but it is certainly not boring. Zinman plays the fast movements almost as fast as Immerseel and presents a decent 5th, although I miss some grandeur when it should reach its climax in the 4th movement.

I am not very enthusiastic about Beethoven's 4th Symphony, but maybe I just haven't listened to it enough to get to know it better. The recording I will choose to get to know it better will probably be Vanska's.
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In the 3rd Symphony ("Eroica") Vanska slowly builds up tension creating a truly heroic feeling - definitely my favourite.

The 1st and 2nd Symphonies are not core repertoire Beethoven and I suppose most performers don't really care too much about them. At least when I listen to them they only really make sense and appeal to me in the hands of Osmo Vanska.

I almost forgot about Herbert Blomstedt. Maybe because his cycle is forgettable in the sense that it just repeats an approach similar to Karajan's.

When it comes to sound Anima Eterna's set is definitely the winner. Not only because it has the best recording technique, but also because the small orchestra enables you to hear every single instrument in the orchestra. With larger orchestras the sound becomes somewhat blurred and you can't tell which instruments are playing what. As I said the Karajan set discussed here was recorded in 1963. Blomstedt's is from the late `70s (the 9th from 1980), Zinman's is from the `90s, Immerseel's and Vanska's were both recorded in the beginning of the new millennium and are of course superior in terms of sound quality.

So my recommendation: Jos van Immerseel with Anima Eterna is the best overall set, but if you don't like the idea of period instruments and a small ensemble choose Osmo Vanska with the Minnesota Orchestra. In addition to that buy Carlos Kleiber's 5th and 7th and Karajan's or Dausgaard's 9th.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars THE top period instrument set for me!!, 18 Sep 2013
There isn't much more I can say about Anima Eterna/Immerseel's recording which hasn't already been said by previous reviewers, except it's fantastic!

My first choice on modern instruments would be Mackerras with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra on Hyperion - I have no trouble at all with the Philharmonia playing the last symphony in this wonderful project - which never fails to please and combines the best of both worlds. I also have Harnoncourt's, Bruggen's two versions, Krivine's, Hogwood's, Norrington's and Gardiner's so I'm reasonably well stocked for complete Beethoven cycles! However, there's just something special about Immerseel and his band who just seem to get it right and the excellent recording quality is also a bonus, so much so that I also purchased the download via my superb HTC One android phone whose tiny little integrated speakers blast out a worthy detailed sound in this format which only put the iPhone and others to shame without needing a docking station :-) I was not disappointed here either.

To buy a recording once may seem normal enough, but to do so twice does indeed speak volumes!!
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