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4.2 out of 5 stars47
4.2 out of 5 stars
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on 19 April 2012
...not the sound quality! The one-star reviewers are welcome to listen to the latest squeaky clean digital Beethoven on their super-duper expensive systems, but for those of us who rate the music making above mere technical considerations this set is a must!
Yes, it's in mono (apart from the 8th). Yes the dynamic range and clarity are not what can be achieved today. But the playing of the 1950s Philharmonia is to be cherished (Dennis Brain rounding off the "Pastoral" symphony with a solo like the "horns of Elfland faintly blowing", the matchless woodwinds)... it's all just fabulous, and this "Pastoral" is unquestionably the finest of HvK's four studio attempts by far.
I own three of Karajan's Beethoven cycles but not the final, digital one! Not that I have anything against digital, it's just that the final cycle seems to me to be too sleek, too manicured. Here, in the 1950s, Karajan marries his matchless sense of sonority (which has not yet become homogenised) with his famous drive (which has not yet become overbearing). Hence the finale of the Seventh is a giddy, intoxicating whirl compared to 1977's annihilating impetus (also great, in its way). The Ninth is not quite the equal of Karajan's two subsequent recordings, but still fine.
At the price, forget the technology, just enjoy the music, and the music making.
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on 11 May 2011
I've been trying to get my girls (aged eight and ten) to listen to classical music. They showed no interest in the classics at all until I got this set. We have listened to the music together and they have put this on several times when I was not even around. The eldest has mentioned the possibility of taking piano lessons. I am so pleased to find something that sparked their interest. I feel like it might be time to throw a little Bach their way too.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 5 February 2009
After many years of both Beethoven and Karajan, I have come full circle and must now insist to the casual reader that this particular cycle is HvK's best Beethoven offering. These mono recordings, made in the excellent Kingsway Hall, are more personable and more successful in conveying Karajan's stated aim - a blend of Toscanini's precision and Furtwangler's fantasy. The Philharmonia were a brand new orchestra, not created for karajan as such, but it probably felt that way.

For me, the celebrated 1962 set with the BPO is Karajan with his Toscanini hat on: too fast, too brilliant, too soulless. The 1977 box restores the depth and heart to Karajan's Beethoven, but now the overall sound picture begins to bother me. The strings are too dominant and the timps too...well...tea-tray like. Don't get me wrong, it's a great cycle but the Philharmonia sessions are a joy from start to finish.

So what if it's mostly mono? This was the high noon of mono, Karajan had a great recording team and believe-you-me, people more interested in technology than music are already calling DDD stereo 'old' and starting to drool over Blu-Ray audio or whatever. No, remastered mono can be as satisfying as any incarnation of stereo, and at this price, why hesitate. These days, it's becoming harder and harder to find a set where all nine symphonies are done superbly. EMI's latest reissue is timely and really a must have, if only to complement your latest fashionable conductor's Beethoven (be it Zinman, Abbado, Rattle, etc).
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on 21 February 2009
I admire many of Karajan's recordings some of which are truly great but not, as a rule, his Beethoven. This is mainly because of his later stereo recordings, the last of which in the 1980s was frankly a mistake which did him no favours. This set is something different. There is still the freshness that was so admired in the 1940s and one feels a sense of greatness at times. I too return to these recordings if I wish to listen to his Beethoven, by far the most satisfying of the 4 cycles. But, if you are looking for truly great Beethoven and don't mind mono or ADD etc I would say go for a mixture of Erich Kleiber and son Carlos the mono Klemperer and Furtwangler, not forgetting Weingartner of course. I'm sorry to say the more modern accounts leave me a bit cold, too "fashion" conscious for me and not getting to the heart of the music. If you don't have a complete cycle and are looking for one, this is strongly recommended.
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on 15 March 2011
Herbert von Karajan is not my favourite conductor, because despite the consistent excellence of the individual components of the sounds produced by the orchestra under his direction, somehow for me the later recordings are often a little metronomic and lack the subtle feeling for the music that one senses in, say, Karl Boehm notwithstanding the latter's sometimes eccentric tempi. These recordings, however, were my first real introductions to Beethoven's symphonies and for me they retain their original attraction - not for nostalgic reasons but because my sense is that the conductor is still reaching to understand all there is to know about the music, rather than showing off his undoubted command of it. Yes they are mono, and they must be diminished to some extent for that, but not much and are less expensive.
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on 22 January 2010
Although the original recording is four decades old, this is still one of the landmrk interpretations of the nine symphonies. The re-working is excellent, and the performances, especially on the ninth symphony have rarely if ever been equalled
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on 29 November 2010
Karajan recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies four times and this set, made in Paris and Vienna with the Philharmonia, is the earliest. The producer was Walter Legge who was as much of a perfectionist as was Karajan and the 1950's sound still sounds remarkable for its date - the balance is so good that the fact the majority of the sessions are mono is easily forgotten. The orchestra was at its early peak and plays with an efforless vituosity that is a joy to hear.

Karajan was at the very height of his powers and the performances here are full of vigour and appolonian excitement. They are of the school of Weingartner and Toscanini and very different to the deeply subjective, although equally valid, interpretations of Furtwangler. Without any annoying mannerisms they maintain their freshness after half a century and the cycle remains among the very finest in the catalogue.

Whether this is the finest of Karajan's cycles is open to debate but it's certainly the one I return to most often and have done so for at least thirty years. None of the performances are duds but the fifth, seventh and ninth - with a splendid solo quartet - are truly outstanding.

The remastering has been well done and the set deserves a place on the shelves of any lover of Beethoven's music. Highly recommended.
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on 25 August 2010
This is a gem of an edition. Not only is amazing value-for-money but the recordings are crisp and evocative of the peak of the Karajan era. Excellent for people wanting to update vinyl versions or just to try out if they are not familiar with all the Symphonies or Karajan's mastery. Highly recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 9 April 2011
What can you say really? Karajan was a master and this is a huge compendium of master works conducted superbly. Difficult to believe that these recordings could ever be improved upon. Definitely recommended.
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on 8 September 2011
My wife bought a tape of these recordings for me to listen to on a personal tape machine, after a heart attack, the recording was so restful and soothing just the right thing. The tapes are now out of date so I purchased this boxed CD, very good, reminded me of not such a good time, but also of such good music. I am not an expert about sound recording, but this one sounds great to me.
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