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Having lived with Daniel Barenboim's 1990s Beethoven symphony cycle for some time, I have to confess that my opinion of it changes almost as much as the British weather. On balance, I think, this is an excellent set with the positives far outweighing the negatives.

The once authoritative "Penguin Guide" was consistently cautious in its opinion over the years the set appeared in its pages. "Barenboim, even more than most of today's conductors, has a lifelong devotion to the work of Fürtwangler, a point that is regularly reflected in his current readings of the Beethoven symphonies. Speeds tend to be broad in the Fürtwangler manner, often very broad, as in the first movements of the Eroica and Ninth, and he encourages a fair degree of flexibility within movements...what undermines most of these performances is a curious lack of tension...while still achieving creditable results, tends to fall short. The result is a series of run-throughs rather than genuine performances...this set, whether taken as a whole or sampled individually, can be recommended only to Barenboim devotees."

Ouch! That reads remarkably like the reviews in "The Record Guide" in the 1950s when many of Fürtwangler's BPO/VPO Columbia recordings were released Beethoven: Complete Symphonies.

Here, on the other hand is a view from the USA Classical Music: Third Ear - The Essential Listening Companion:-

"Barenboim...effort superb. Using the Berliner Staatskapelle, as underrated an orchestra as I can think of, he has pulled off the near-impossible and come as close as anyone to giving us the definitive set. The dark, mahogany burnish of these readings is the ultimate in finely graded, magnificently rich and robust sound. Interpretatively, 1 and 2 are on a par with any - gorgeously managed and conducted with finesse and suppleness; 3 is splendid, a large-scale performance with small-scale details and no lack of grandeur or emotion; 4 and 8 are similar in concept, too lithe and nimble for my taste, with 8 especially lacking in grandness and swagger. No.5 is fabulous, one of the best on disc, giving even Kleiber Beethoven: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7 a run for the money; 6 is intense, too lacking in repose, though played beautifully. No.7 is again in the running for top honours in a very crowded field, the bravura of the horns and darkness of the sound combining for a thrilling effect, while 9 is one of the best around, full of nuance, a penetrating emotional ride that leaves you drained at the end. With a fully successful 7 of 9 symphonies (and the other two are in no way unacceptable), I will boldly say it: this is the best single collection of the nine symphonies on the market today." (NB: written in, I think, 2000/01).

Well, I have to side far more with the American view of the set and pretty much entirely agree with the foregoing view. I must also mention the top-notch sonics, decent booklet and dreadful picture of Barenboim on the box!

In other words, highly recommended. Now, I wonder what his new set Beethoven For All: The Symphonies is like?
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on 5 August 2010
I started investigating and listening to classical music in late 2000 and into 2001. This Barenboim Beethoven cycle was recorded in 1999 and first released in 2000, so I must have just missed hearing about it and the acclaim it received. Fortunately I have now discovered it, and this 2004 reissue, which was lost in Amazon's cloud due to faulty labelling. This is a true Brilliant-style box, no jewel cases, six discs in cardboard sleeves and an excellent 108-page booklet.

With the emergence of the HIP (historically informed performance) movement, some Beethoven listeners have come to prefer the sleeker, faster style that was apparently the way the works were originally performed, which can be heard in the cycles led by Gardiner,Harnoncourt, Mackerras, Norrington and Zinman. Some conductors, like Claudio Abbado, have embraced the movement and recorded new cycles in the stripped-down style. But Daniel Barenboim is not part of that movement. His inspiration as a conductor is the great Wilhelm Furtwangler, and he consciously extends the German tradition that was developed across the 20th century, well-known to most classical music listeners. This is a fantastic Beethoven cycle on every level, with that understanding. The Staatskapelle Berlin has a deep, rich, burnished sound, and Barenboim's readings are masterful. Everyone who has heard these great works is likely to find places where they question a particular passage where the conductor takes a tempo or attack differently than in their favorite recording. But there is no question of Barenboim's vision and control, with some of Furtwangler's elan if not the seat-of-the-pants daring and stretching of tempos.

Having been listening to Beethoven and classical music for several years now, I have arrived at a point where I am increasingly likely to seek out a recording based on the orchestra. The Staatskapelle Berlin is not as well-known as the Berlin Philharmoniker, but it is one of Berlin's and Germany's finest symphony orchestras, with a long tradition. According to the liner notes, all of Beethoven's symphonies were heard in Berlin during the composer's lifetime, and the Berlin premieres were all by the Royal Prussian Court Orchestra, which is now the Staatskapelle Berlin. After World War II the SB was a leading East German (DDR) orchestra, and was led by Otmar Suitner through most of the DDR period. Today the SB shares the magnificent Deutsche Staatsoper Berlin, on the Unter den Linden on Museum Island, a World Heritage site. (It is currently closed for reconstruction, and performances have been moved to the Schiller Theater until 2013.) Daniel Barenboim (b. 1942) was voted Music Director for life by the musicians in 2000, and is still at the helm today. I have come to realize that beyond the Berlin Philharmoniker there are many fine German orchestras, including the Staatskapelle Dresden and the Staatskapelle Berlin which maintained the highest standards of music through the DDR years into the post-reunification period.

This Beethoven cycle is widely regarded as one of the finest recent state-of-the-art recordings. I can't recommend it more highly.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 24 February 2015
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.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 19 October 2011
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:
Nine Symphonies
"Leonore" 1, 2 and 3
"Fidelio" Overtures

Performed by:
Solle Isokoski soprano
Rosemarie Lang contralto
Robert Gambill tenor
Rene Pape bass
Chor der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin
Eberhard Friedrich chorus master
Stattskapelle Berlin

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.
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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!
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