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4.4 out of 5 stars
41
4.4 out of 5 stars
Format: Audio CD|Change
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on 31 May 2017
I like the Von Karajan interpretation of Beethoven and can certainly recommend this set of five CD's. Oddly however, at least in my box, disc 1 does play Symphonies 1 and 3, but the titling that appears on my player alleges that these are Symphonies 2 and 4. Inspection of the CD on my computer confirms that's how the tracks are titled. They certainly are Symphonies 1 and 3 so it's a wee bit confusing at first. But hey, the music is great.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICEon 8 December 2008
This set of 5 CDs, which are sometimes confusingly refered to as the Karajan `1963 version' of Beethoven symphonies, are in fact recordings of performances between December 1961 and November 1962. This is according to the sleeve notes, which also state the publishing date of 1963 so I assume this is the cause of the mis-quotes.

The collection has also received much criticism for its quality of recording, but I couldn't hear any evidence of this on my set. Maybe recording techniques have improved since the 1960's but I would find these CD releases difficult to fault, and while the much-hyped vinyl pressings of these performances may have great nostalgic value and appeal more to the audiophile, I would find them rather difficult to play while driving to work!

But seriously, it's worth remembering that Karajan was a key figure in the development of the CD format, where he attended the first press conference announcing this new medium, although the decision to extend the maximum playing time of CDs from 60 minutes to 75 minutes in order to accommodate Karajan's rendition of Beethoven's Ninth may be a little fanciful.

This is a lovely packaged set of CDs, neatly presented in a slim-line box with 52 page booklet (21 pages in English), including the words to Schiller's `Ode to Joy'.

My favourite of the set is the powerful, yet controlled, Ninth symphony.

The conductor is dead, long live these recordings
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on 29 March 2007
This is an "original image bit processing" remastered version of the great Karajan 1963 Beethoven cycle, catalogue number 463 088-2. This is clearly printed on the individual CDs themselves (if you don't believe me, go to your record store and ask if you can see the disks from the box! This isn't documented elsewhere, but I'm sure it's true - the sound quality has that cleaned up fresher sound that you get with the DG 'originals' series that have been remastered this way).

As such it has considerably clearer better sound quality than the previous incarnation of this complete set, in the old maroon box (search amazon for the amazon ASIN number B000001GBQ for this older set of the same recording, but much inferior sound transfer)

Whether other reviewers who are diminishing THIS set's qualities on the basis of sound quality are actually reviewing the older incarnation of these 1963 performances, I do not know. But, although clearly not a recent crystal clear recording, it is actually very good, warm, focussed, well balanced, obviously well recorded in the first place, and the old degraded master tapes have been cleaned up by the clever technical wizardry of DG's modern remastering, perhaps a compressed dynamic range, but completely liveable.

I believe that the SACD remasterings of these same recordings go one better with sound quality, but nevertheless, this CD set is a bargain. This is one of the finest Beethoven cycles ever, with a solid rounded yet unmannered approach combined with a near-perfect modern symphony orchestra. For me the weaknesses may lie in the 5th and 9th symphonies (tho I am listening to the 5th now as writing this - a shade less electrifying than Kleiber or tingling than Bernstein, still darned thrilling, and improved no end from the previous ropey sound transfer). The 3rd, 7th, and possibly 4th are, for me, unsurpassed, electric and virtuosic. And the 6th is excellent - providing you like the brisker side of pastoral country life, if not then look up Bohm instead. So you might find yourself getting additional recordings of 5, 6, and 9, but it's a marginal thing, and if you want one introductory, sane but brilliant Beethoven symphony cycle for a knock down price, and which only takes up 15 millimetres of shelf space in the compact box, then I can't think of a better recomendation than this original image bit processed freshly remastered edition of a musical monument.

Edited to add: I have since listened to the George Szell/Cleveland Orch remastered cleaned up set of Beethoven Symphonies - and I can only reiterate the general acknowledgement that this Karajan set here is musically superior than Szell's Beethoven Symphonies. Fresher and more musical; both have equally good new remastering.
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This set of 5 CDs, which are sometimes confusingly referred to as the Karajan `1963 version' of Beethoven symphonies, are in fact recordings of performances between December 1961 and November 1962. This is according to the sleeve notes, which also state the publishing date of 1963 so I assume this is the cause of the mis-quotes.

The collection has also received much criticism for its quality of recording, but I couldn't hear any evidence of this on my set. Maybe recording techniques have improved since the 1960's but I would find these CD releases difficult to fault, and while the much-hyped vinyl pressings of these performances may have great nostalgic value and appeal more to the audiophile, I would find them rather difficult to play while driving to work!

It is worth remembering too that Karajan was a key figure in the development of the CD format, where he attended the first press conference announcing this new medium, although the decision to extend the maximum playing time of CDs from 60 minutes to 75 minutes in order to accommodate Karajan's rendition of Beethoven's Ninth may be a little fanciful.

This is a lovely packaged set of CDs, neatly presented in a slim-line box with 52 page booklet (21 pages in English), and including the words to Schiller's `Ode to Joy' in case you want to sing-a-long.

My favourite of the set is the powerful, yet immaculately controlled and refined, Ninth symphony.

The conductor is dead, long live the recordings...
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on 31 January 2010
I am a Beethoven enthusiast. In order to form a balanced view of the Beethoven recordings of the late 20th century's most prominent conductor one must have heard, and studied, the 'competition'. Besides Karajan I own more than half the Beethoven symphony output on record of such as Weingartner, Toscanini, Koussevitsky, Furtwaengler, Klemperer, Erich Kleiber, Carlos Kleiber, Harnoncourt, Gardiner, Vanska and Paavo Jarvi. Without this sort of context how can one judge?
This so-called 1963 set of Karajan with the BPO was a slick, and perhaps for the first time integral, production, the second of Karajan's four complete sets, the first with the Philharmonia Orchestra in the 1950s and the other three with the BPO. It is generally considered the best of the three BPO versions and is distinguished by an outstanding performance of the Fourth Symphony, more dynamic and exciting than the equivalent performance in the other three Karajan sets. The set also contains very satisfying performances of Symphonies 1, 2, 3 (Eroica), 8 and 9 (Choral). I find the 5th Symphony under Karajan overheated, the 6th (Pastoral) too unloving and the 7th lacking in the proper expression of the dactylic rhythm of the second allegretto movement and very hectic in the finale.
To get a proper perspective it is necessary to understand that the '1963 set' arrived at a fortunate time for DG because there was a gap in the market. Weingartner, Furtwaengler and Toscanini (at least his pre-War efforts before he became too tense and fast!) were better conductors than Karajan but they all died before the stereo era and their wonderful efforts are therefore cast in dim mono sound. The real competition should have come in stereo from Szell, Bohm and, above all, Klemperer. However, Szell to me always sounds as if he is conducting in a kind of straightjacket, especially with the Cleveland Orchestra, Bohm is relatively 'ordinary' apart from his very well regarded 'Pastoral' and Klemperer (23 years older than Karajan) had markedly slowed up by the time he recorded his stereo set of the symphonies in 1958 and 1960, If you examine Klemperer's mono recordings you will find the same wonderful sense of structure as in the stereo set but played at tempi up to 30% faster. Therefore, Karajan's main competition in 1963 was old and slow on EMI, although arguably still a greater master of structure than Karajan.
Since Karajan there have been many other attempts at the 'immortal 9', including several on period instruments which often exhibit very fast tempi, such as Norrington, Gardiner and Jarvi. Harnoncourt and Vanska are more mainstream and generally very good but not without their quirks. However, the '1963 Karajan' still markets well because it is in good stereo (the possibly more musical set with the Philharmonia in the 1950s is in mono only apart from the Eighth Symphony) and the two later Karajan sets with the BPO in 1977 and 1983/4 (the latter in original digital sound) are not an improvement musically over '1963', indeed rather the reverse.
All the above explains why the '1963 Karajan' remains such a good, and cheap, starting point for those acquiring a first set of the Beethoven symphonies and is indeed good listening for those more acquainted with them. But you can't really claim to understand these works fully until you venture into the 'dim mono'. Weingartner was an Austrian 45 years older than Karajan and his general approach is similar but he phrases the music much more incisively rather than smoothing it out and was the first to record all 9. Toscanini is best appreciated via his 1936 recording of the 7th with the NYPO and his BBCSO reading of the Pastoral in the following year. Furtwaengler was glorious in his, admittedly rather subjective, interpretative insights (probably explains why he detested the smooth, younger Karajan so much)! And Klemperer in mono, including his 5th and Pastoral with the VSO in the late 40s and EMI 3, 5 and 7 from 1955, was the supreme master of structure. Good listening after Karajan.
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on 8 December 2015
Looked forward to this, but found I just didn't like Karajan's interpretation. Too 20th century in its sound, and repeats cut out. The 3rd, in particular, was unbearable.
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on 25 June 2002
This is the better of the 2 recordings which Karajan did. This was the 1963 version, which is without doubt one of the best renditions I have every heard, the energy with which karajan takes the orchestra through the entire set of symphonies is amazing. When I first heard this recording, I was a bit indifferent as it sounds somewhat faster than a lot of other conductors have paced it at, but after a while, it grows on you and you will want to listen to nothing but Karajan. Without a doubt this is singly the best version of #9 I have heard.
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on 6 August 2015
In 1960s my late father owned this set on Vinyl and this is the sound of Beethoven I grew up with. The compact disc transfers are in my opinion magnificent. The ambience and sound stage incredible. I'm not musically trained so I cannot comment about the technicalities of the performances. It's an exceptional set and should be in any Beethoven enthusiasts collection. I also own the 1980s DDD collection. This is far far better. There's something just not right with the later Digital set. It's tinny and flat in comparison.
This set cost just under £8 secondhand too including delivery. Bargain.
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on 2 March 2005
This is, of course, a classic set and the playing is gorgeous. I have a slight Karajan-phobia but these are great recordings and the over-control and the show-offy stuff, of the older Karajan, is absent. It is a great counterpoint to the Klemperer set (late 50s EMI) which is much more solid, less beautiful, more "truthful", less elegant and lyrical, more elemental etc. (I think I prefer the Klemperer- in his set it seems to be the music speaking more than the conductor if that makes any sense- but it is worth getting both). I have never heard the vinyls (someone commented that these recordings are better on vinyl) but the transfers to CD are really quite poor quality and compare badly to, for example, the EMI recordings which are slightly older but excellent quality- I cannot believe the original tapes are that bad/or cannot be cleaned up somewhat. I am not totally conviced by the 9th, I think the first movement is too polished (I have a version from 1947 with the Vienna Phil and Karajan which is superior- with a truly incredible cast Patzak, Hotter, Swartzkopf...)- best go for the live Klemperer on Testament for that; or a Furtwangler. Sound quality aside, however, as a complete cycle this a great buy.
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on 13 January 2014
What else can one say. It's a digitised version of probably the greatest recording ever mafe of the entire 9 symphonies of Beethoven!
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