Beethoven: The Symphonies (Limited Edition) Box set
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Limited Edition: Presented in a book
This complete cycle of Beethoven’s nine Symphonies is a landmark event for Decca, for Maestro Chailly, and for the Gewandhausorchester, where he has been Kapellmeister since 2005. These acclaimed performances were recorded live in the Gewandhaus over three years, in preparation for the highly-anticipated complete cycles that Maestro Chailly of October and November 2011. The cycle showcases the finesse and musicality of the legendary Gewandhaus Orchestra--from the Haydnesque elegance of the first two symphonies, to the grandeur and drama of the choral Ninth Symphony. This five CD set of the nine Symphonies also includes selected Beethoven Overtures, and comes for an initial period in substantial and luxurious packaging, comprising a hard-back book with five internal CD wallets, all contained within an outer slipcase.
‘Chailly’s account of the First Symphony is a tour de force of wit and subversive joy, and the performance of the Second Symphony is almost as good. There is a fine account of the Fourth Symphony … a distinguished account of the Seventh Symphony … electrifying account of the Eighth. The Ninth gets a predictably swift reading, compact and powerful, which, like everything else in this cycle, is of a piece with itself.
'The recordings, I should add, are superb. These are proper studio recordings, not concert paraphrases. There is space around the sound, as there needs to be in Beethoven, complemented by an immediacy and clarity of detail that derives in large measure from the playing itself.’ Disc of the Month, Gramophone.
‘This is above all, an explosively swift cycle. Chailly is utterly faithful to Beethoven's metronome markings. The result is a Beethoven cycle that's up there with the best modern-orchestra versions of recent times … and which also manages the seemingly impossible – making the music seem freshly minted without any concessions at all to period performance’ ***** The Guardian
‘From the outset it is clear that Chailly’s Beethoven will be an exhilarating adventure. The breathtaking finale of No 8 is the most exciting I have heard of disc. [The ninth] is a dramatic and visionary interpretation’ CD of the Week, The Times.
At the heart of any Beethoven symphony cycle is always going to be a tedious discussion of the ‘right’ way of doing things. Adhere too closely to authentic period performance and one risks ignoring the drama modern orchestras are capable of; but ignore those strictures and you’ll be lambasted for dousing the whole thing in garish romance. In short, it’s a brave conductor who attempts anything approaching a ‘definitive’ recording. Riccardo Chailly, star and commander of the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig for some years now, can now rest easy – his readings fall somewhere between both camps. They are, commendably, focused entirely on the composer and not on debating how things ‘should’ sound.
Of course, distilling, linking and finding the energy for nine individual concept albums is a mammoth task and bound to end up with uneven results, but it is certainly interesting to see exactly which works have come out on top. Inevitably, the tent-poles of the third, fifth and ninth symphonies are direct, strong and unshakeable. The third (the Eroica), in particular, doesn’t linger on the more morose corners and paints the composer as the sub-titular hero more than anyone else. Similarly, the galloping excess of the ninth is reined in enough in the early stages to make the conclusion suitably grand.
It is in the lesser-known symphonies that the narratives become a little lost. This isn’t only a reflection of the performances, but also of the place the works have come to occupy in the composer’s canon. There are innumerable corners of melodic interest to explore in these works still, a delicate counterpoint or rhythmic tic that could have been drawn out a little more clearly (the finale of the Pastoral symphony is rather too clinical, for example), but these are given only cursory attention. Still, when attempting a monolithic set such as this, there are bound to be fallow patches.
Furthermore, interspersing the symphonies with various Beethoven overtures as palate-cleansers was perhaps a misstep. Even the most cursory listen to the gloriously dark opening of the Egmont overture is enough to suggest that these are worthy of a separate collection. These issues aside, what Chailly has produced might not be definitive, but it certainly is rich where it needs to be. The playing is responsive and immaculate throughout, forming the backbone of Chailly’s brilliantly authentic crib-sheet of a symphony cycle. Though the arguments will always rage as to exactly how these works are supposed to sound, here they’re treated as sacred texts not to be meddled with. And that is more than you could reasonably ask of most conductors. --Daniel Ross
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Top Customer Reviews
A very classical approach rather than romantic, theres no showing off. Chailly clearly loves these symphonies for what they are and so he's not out to prove anything or show a new side to them. The ninth is a perfect example, its fast and simple, but never loses any of the spine tingling emotion and the finale is simply wonderful. The 3rd's funeral march is a breath of fresh air at 12.10 mins, nothing is lost by this. The 5th is in similar tempo to Carlos Kleibers 75 masterpeice though not quite as brilliant, is still exhilarating.
A set that is helped by a fantastic modern studio recording. This is raw, exciting Beethoven and a set that I'm going to treasure for a long time. If you love Beethoven then I know you'll love this.
Chailly leans towards the historically sensitive stylists, but yet combines it with the large-sized orchestral sound we know from past readings. Lots of fury has been vented at the historically sensitive performing approach to Beethoven because the conductors and orchestras have adopted faster speeds than the norm. I know that it is naughty of me to vouch for this historically sensitive approach to Beethoven. I know that Beethoven symphony performances that adopt his fast speeds may have a hurry-sick, rush-hour demeanour and might risk causing cardiac arrest and coronary thrombosis in listeners. However this removal of Wagnerian and late-Romantic lens from Beethoven has removed the stodge that has crept in through the years and blunted our perceptions of this corpus of symphonies. Chailly's arresting Beethoven cycle bristles with nervous energy and combines the beefy sound of Karajan with the attitudes of the historically sensitive stylists like Gardiner, Harnoncourt and Norrington. In fact Chailly cites Jeggy, alongside Toscanini and Karajan, as one of his role models in conducting the cycle.Read more ›
Having listened to versions from Rattle, Barenboim (far too mannered), Harnoncourt et all as well as the older ones, it is easier to make a judgement and give this cycle some context. Chailly wants them to stand next to Karajan and Toscanini whilst appealing to today's lister and taking in some of the aspects of more recent recordings. Del Mar's adaptions have gone but the odd changes do creep in and certainly no damage done. In this repect he has succeeded - they have the pulse of the older versions with a slightly more modern crisp feel to them without the excessive mannerisms that some of the later collections seem to have. Best of both worlds if you like.
Unlike Barenboim etc, Chailly seems to play them to a large degree as they are meant to be - no excessive interpretation required which IMO is how they should be played..each symphony is perfect in pretty much everyway and they don't lend themsleves to any specific interpretive leaning either way IMO - classical, Romantic etc.
It doesn't always work though - some of them feel slighty rushed in certain places but as we know, its impossible to get evey symphony just right over a whole cycle. The 5th comes off the best, the 3rd movement of the 7th is an example of where the music isn't really allowed to breath as it should do but these are minor quibbles in what is a good overall effort. They are suberbly recored too.
For me, Karajan's 1963 set is one of the best ever - he just about gets the balance right with each one (bar the 6th). As for more modern versions, this one will certainly fit the bill but Abbado's second live version with the Berlin Phil recorded in Italy is the stand out.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus have been setting sparks off in their partnership. I know that this musical relationship will continue despite his La Scala commitments. Read morePublished 21 months ago by Yi-Peng
We've all cut our teeth on these symphonies for decades prior. They're locked in our memories and judged as masterpieces. Read morePublished on 5 May 2014 by Ronald Haak
If you do like Beethoven played as if a hectic Overture by Rossini this might be for you .
This demonstration of a musical conception of Beethoven hardly does Chailly proud... Read more
Having listened to the many different cycles of Beethoven Symphonies on vinyl and CD over the last 50 years I was quite excited at the prospect of hearing this cycle following rave... Read morePublished on 16 Oct. 2013 by Timbo