on 18 April 2011
I am not a musician or a musicologist, but I know what I like. I couldn't tell a crochet from a quaver. Ludwig Van would have written his music to entertain folks like me, who would buy a ticket to see and hear his works performed. I love Beethoven's music, and have committed so much of his compositions to memory that I can hum along with most of it. What could be termed as my default Beethoven symphonies are a collection from Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Symphony Orchestra that I bought and got to know way back in the 80's. That interpretation is workman-like, and competent - but rather pedestrian to my ears. In fact, most of Karajan's interpretations are like this to me. The Beethoven symphonies are so well known, and so frequently performed that they can become rather over-familiar and somewhat stale. I thought the time was right out of boredom to try a different interpretation. Barenboim's collection looked splendid value. Having a collection of his piano works I thought that here is a musician of the first rate who could be trusted. Besides, I have been a fan of Daniel Barenboim's for over forty years now. Got to be careful with my pocket money so whatever I buy will be with me for years to come! So I did the deed and bought this collection. Now that I have heard the albums all the way through I've got to say that what I have heard is so fresh, and vigorous, and dare I say it - thrilling to listen to that I would thoroughly recommend this collection of Beethoven's finest works to Beethoven-lovers everywhere. Shivers down the spine stuff to be sure. Go on, buy it. You will not regret it.
on 12 September 2009
I also have the Beethoven set played by the Tonhalle orchestra under David Zinman, which I find generally to lack sparkle and enthusism.
This set by Barenboim is the opposite, played with drive and passion and (to my ears) beautiful tempi. Demonstration quality recording.
on 9 April 2015
I now have three Beethoven Symphonies cycles, two as downloads and one as a CD box set and I still have one or two more yet to buy, but by no means am I complaining. On the contrary, it's a pleasure to have such excellent works. I bought this through reading the reviews on Amazon and as I didn't want to go much over £18 for a cycle, I bought this as a download, since it's being sold at £20.50 for the CD box set. It seemed just the right performance to add to my collection, given that I enjoy the more slower Beethoven performances and having bought the Piano Concertos conducted by Klemperer and thoroughly enjoyed them, I made no more ado but immediately bought this one. Each symphony is performed excellently, although I did find I needed to turn the volume up considerably when the cellos and double base were playing the melody in the fourth movement of the 9th. Still, I'm by no means deducting anything from my 5 star rating because of it. Repeats are observed and every instrument can be heard and the symphonies come in order. You'll never find a perfect cycle, which is why it's good to have several, but one thing I can promise is that you won't be disappointed in this cycle (No 5 was a joy to listen to from its beginning to conclusion). So don't look any further, just buy.
Recorded in 1999 this Barenboim Beethoven cycle will attract critics and admirers alike for various reasons, but as a mid-priced 6 CD set which also includes the Fidelio and three Leonore overtures it represents good value.
Daniel Barenboim initially gained widespread recognition as a pianist and is now considered one of the most prominent conductors of recent years. At times he is seen as controversial not only for his views on performance styles and traditions (including Beethoven's symphonies), but for his comments on Israeli / Palestinian political issues.
Politics aside, for they should not cloud the opinions of Beethoven's music, Barenboim has clear ideas how he likes to interpret his music, arguing the importance of harmony and rhythm as opposed to representing the piece according to its true intention for the sake of perceived authenticity.
Barenboim's tendency here is to neglect the widely praised Jonathan Del Mar editions in favour of the traditional performance score, and while this may be at the expense of accuracy and authenticity it makes for dramatic listening, with frequent changes in tempo within the same movement providing a feeling of expectancy and excitement. These Barenboim interpretations remind me of those by Sir Simon Rattle, full of an unpredictability which gives them a love-them or leave-them feel.
This set will create mixed reactions, with purists and academics lending their ear to performances by the likes of Zinman, Karajan and Klemperer, while those who prefer to take the rollercoaster ride will go with this version.
on 31 August 2010
Having read other reviews I was unsure how good this box set would be. Again it is always a matter of taste, but I can say that the clarity of recording is excellent. The orchestra performs superbly, the pianissimo passages are crispy clear and the fortissimo and tutti passages are full and powerful. In the correct places the recording is full of fire just like Ludwig hmself. I'm sure he would have approved of the passion in this set. Just my opinion of course.
Five stars in absolute terms. Delivery and ease of use being relevant. And by delivery I refer to pressing a button and having seven hours and eight minutes of music instantly delivered down your telephone line. Collect each of the 41 tracks one at a time takes a minute or two in XP. It's on your portable hard drive. Connect to blu ray player that has music settings (rock, jazz, classical). Impossible not to be impressed by this production. From those tentative opening pairs of the first symphony via the composer's dark disturbance of the fifth to the stirring choral crescendo of the ninth. Punctuated by Fidelio overture either side of the third symphony. Delicious.
Even when I dare to compare with my 1981 CD of the ninth by Karl Bohm's Vienna Philharmonic it is difficult to prefer one or the other. Were the power of the cellos in the CD a reproduction or interpretation difference? Or does the WAV file have more impact? All I know is that I'm sitting here enthralled by the rousing choral finale of the MP3. Recommended for HiFi. And the spirit.
Already possessing the von Karajan and Bernstein sets for different, full orchestra sound and the Norrington set for the "authentic", smaller sound with original instruments, i.e. HIP (historically informed performance), I saw this and wondered. I already had a number of Barenboim's and I always enjoy his performances, including his Masterclasses and conducting DVDs but, when I saw the budget price and read a few reviews, I was convinced.
As usual with Warner Classics, the CDs are in a good-quality cardboard container, each CD in its own paper sleeve and accompanied by a small but helpful multi-language booklet, so no shattering of plastic boxes prior to its falling apart because the box does not want to release the CDs.
In the box there are:
"Leonore" 1, 2 and 3
Solle Isokoski soprano
Rosemarie Lang contralto
Robert Gambill tenor
Rene Pape bass
Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin
Eberhard Friedrich chorus master
429.14 minutes of joy
Staatskapelle Berlin is not as well-known as the Berlin Philharmoniker (thanks mainly to von Karajan and the obviously wonderful quality of their playing), but the Staatskapelle has a long history and, when it was known as the Royal Prussian Court Orchestra it performed many of the premiers of these symphonies in Berlin during Beethoven's time; there can be few more illustrious histories for they deservedly should be better known and these CDs will go a long way to raising their profile. Barenboim had already recorded quite a few of the symphonies with the BPO before these recordings.
Barenboim, known initially for his stunning piano performances, has sustained this ability while developing his skills as a conductor to the very highest levels; he has the ability to draw out of orchestras their best performances and here he achieves this; the pianissimos are almost inaudible, so subtle are they (and all credit to the excellent, state-of-the-art recording) and the fortes are played with such vigour and enthusiasm I am sure even Beethoven, the hardest of task-masters, would have been pleased.
For anyone interested in deepening their knowledge of Beethoven, I recommend the "Eroica Project" (Google it as reviews will not allow website addresses) on the site, it can be seen that this 1999 Staatskapelle performance of the "Eroica is significantly slower in the first movement (3.03 minutes slower), second (2.54 mins) and fourth (1.04 mins) movements than his previous 1997 recording with the BPO. (The "Eroica Project", amongst a wide range of issues, looks at whether conductors perform more slowly, e.g. reverentially(?), as they age and, although overall it is not conclusive, it is certainly marked here.) As far as I know, there are no other major projects like this for the other symphonies but it would be interesting to know.
To be able to go to a wide range of Proms throughout the full season, each year we usually buy seats above the gods and around £15.00 rather than expensive ones. This excellent CD set cost me £14.50 for a lifetime's entertainment. Need I say more?
Buy it today.
on 17 April 2009
One of the most satisfying integrals of Beethoven symphonies I've heard so far. While there is a plethora of interpretations on "ancient instruments", this one is played on modern instruments and conducted by a Furtwängler admirer. The result: slower tempos, somber colours. Truly satisfying!