Beethoven: 9 Symphonies Box set
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The classic recording of the nine Beethoven Symphonies - Karajan's 1960s effort - returns to the catalogue now on Eloquence at super-budget price. This set has already achieved Gold sales in Australia and the CDs will now be available not only as a boxed set but also separately.
Top Customer Reviews
This cycle is a classic. Taken as a whole it is very impressive, but I think in general Karajan made interpretations of more depth in his 1970s cycle. However, there is a ruggedness and vitality to these recordings that he didn't quite capture in the later cycle. I think this is more representative of Karajan's more ferocious conducting that characterised some of his earlier recordings (hence my title of the 'firebrand' years). The later priority is for seamless and beautiful playing which has its own reward.
Here is my own response to each interpretation:
No. 1: A beautifully polished and thoughtfully paced reading. Karajan does not rush this symphony. Indeed, this is perhaps one of the most concentrated performances on record of the First Symphony.
No. 2: Very good - quite homogenous playing.
No. 3: This version of the Eroica is one of the high-points of this celebrated cycle. It combines urbanity (in outstanding playing typical of the Berliners) with a good deal of ruggedness. The four movements never seem glossy or artificial and the playing is quite driven throughout. The second movement is played superbly, but perhaps a little less convincing and 'deep' than Karajan's even greater analogue recording from the seventies, which is even more powerful. Tempi are broad in this recording, whilst Karajan's later version is much faster.
No. 4: This is one of the highlights of the cycle, with exceptionally lush and atmospheric conducting. The sound is incredibly vivid on both LP and CD.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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-- ASIN # B000001GBQ: this item you're looking at DG429036; the least expensive version (also same as import package ASIN # B000056OBA)
-- ASIN # B000001GZ4: 1997 remaster DG453701 (done as part of the special 87-disc 20-volume Beethoven Complete Edition). This version is about $25 more and also has a nice color book with history and photos. Used "Original-ImageBit-Processing" technology.
-- ASIN # B0000C03AH: 2003 remaster to SACD DG474600. This version at a hundred+ bucks is 4 times the cost of the basic set.
(And no doubt in the future there will be another remaster using another whizbang technology like "holographic projection" sound.)
I recommend the 1997 remaster (B000001GZ4). It has the best value combination of price and sound quality.
Every symphony here bears the trademark Van Karajan clarity and precision, but unlike his later recordings of Beethoven, there is also plenty of fire and passion. I really like the tempos he chooses for the fifth and the seventh (my favorite). Ever since I bought Karajan's 1963 interpretations of these two a number of years ago, I've never really liked any other conductor's treatment of the finales of these two symphonies, Karajan's seem that perfectly done to me. The first, second, fourth, and eighth are all excellent interpretations, and they will remind any listener that, although they are not considered among Beethoven's colossal achievements, perhaps they should be (especially the fourth). While he might have put a bit more bounce into the eighth, which is without doubt Beethoven's jauntiest symphony, I find that's just a minor quibble on my part.
With the third, sixth and ninth, you won't be disappointed by any means, since none of these interpretations is anything but excellent. But after you listen to them for a while and decide that these symphonies are essential to living a long and happy life, you might want to cast around for alternatives to complement Karajan. It's generally acknowledged that Karajan's 1977 recording of the ninth is his best, and that it is among the greatest interpretations of all time. It's also available on a single disk. For the third, Otto Klemperer, hands down. After Karajan heard Klemperer conduct the third in the 1950's, he visited Klemperer backstage to congratulate him and said that he hoped he would live long enough to one day conduct the slow movement of this symphony as well as Klemperer had done it. High praise indeed. For the sixth, either Karl Bohm or Klemperer again.
That said, I think any lover of Beethoven, or anyone just starting out on getting together a Beethoven collection, should have this set. And it's rare to find such a generous price attached to such a formidable collection.
I was most pleasantly surprised to discover that the sound quality is phenomenal for a 1963 recording, it is better than more recent ADD records. The sound engineering is also very good, it is like having the full orchestra play for you in youor living room. The deep notes of the double basses go right through you while the violins tease your ears in a most pleasent way. So, the sound quality is just great.
I also would like to talk about the CD design, which is something very important for me. I know it is strange but I like to own CDs that have good design. Of course the included material is a lot more important but... Anyway, there are two CD cases with the first one including the first 6 symphonies on 3 CDs, and the other presenting the remaining three on 2 CDs, with the last CD contains the 9th. CDs have mirror surface with the classic DG logo and the contents are listed on the CD itself as well as the booklet. The booklet offers a good read on the 9 symphonies and the cycle presented with the set.
I hope you will enjoy the set as much as I do...