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on 18 March 2013
Nobody, but nobody, or anyone else, ever recorded better performances of 3, 5, 7, 8 or 9 than those in this box. The sound is a bit tight, but the playing and vision are sublime. There is not much wrong with 1,2,4 or 6 either, except in comparison with the exalted standards of the other five.

If you haven't heard Karajan in Bruckner, even more than in Strauss, and if you love this music, you have no excuse now this is so inexpensive. Do not be put off by the Karajan slayers. In the case of this set they are just plain wrong.

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on 18 February 2012
This cycle is the keystone of any Bruckner collection. Other than sonics (what a dog-lazy company DG is nowadays, with apologies to Fido) there are no weaknesses here, only mastery of the highest order.

Firstly, a word about this provincial music-teacher from Ansfelden and his long-winded yarns.

"The most crucial difference between Bruckner's symphonies and his church compositions is that the former seem to go beyond religious dogma to express the more fundamental, primitive stratum of feelings that gave these beliefs birth: a sense of awe, born of the naked wonder, and the fear and delight of humanity when confronted with the beauty and power of Nature and the vast riddle of the Cosmos."

Now to the cycle in question. The world has changed. The chances of the same degree of mastery being replicated across the canon at some point in the future are bugger all.

1 - Karajan recorded the First in early 1981. Thankfully he opted for the Linz version rather than the 1890 Vienna re-write where all the exuberance of the work was leached out by the composer himself. The First is a Masterpiece: it is far more worthy of a 'Titan' epithet than the Mahlerian alternative. For years, I was somewhat deterred by the opening bars. Learn from my mistake. The slow movement is as much of a nocturne as its counterpart in the Fourth. And the last movement has no peer in Bruckner's work; it really is, as the composer said himself, someone barging through the door. The Berlin Phil play peerlessly.

2 - Karajan opens up many, but not all, of the cuts in the 1877 Novak. It is a pity that a clarinet rather than a horn closes the slow movement. But again, this is a superlative performance - and it sounds better than the First which was recorded in the same month. The Scherzo is a heavenly little movement and Karajan is equal to the task.

3 - The 1887 re-write is used here rather than the 1873 or 1877 versions. As commentators have noted, while it does not particularly work on paper, orchestras usually prefer this 'fail-safe' edition to the two alternatives. And how it blazes with glory. I was in Rome and beholding the Arch of Constantine when I fell in love with this work and its final coda. Even with the passage of years, the thrill is still mine. The slow movement is numinosity incarnate.

4 - It really is a case of 'Choose your own Adventure' here, as Karajan uses a different text than his 1970 recording on EMI. A cymbal in the last movement does not bespeak Bruckner's own hand. Mind you, the 'Holy of Holies' chorale in the middle of the first movement benefits greatly from the additional timpani, be it authentic or otherwise. These mundane considerations aside, this is a great performance - a journey into the heart of the forest and beyond. It exhibits similar 'grip' to the Seventh below as if Karajan had been preparing for this performance all his life. And the opening horncall is not mere notes.

5 - Karajan takes this symphony where few others dare to go - perhaps it can only be likened to Celibidache (who would spurn the comparison). The Adagio is heavenly slow: the conductor's concentration and the playing of the Berlin Phil sustain it. The Finale blazes forth appropriately. Does Sirius shine any brighter?

6 - This is the one problematic performance - in a way - though Simpson was correct in his assessment that only Karajan, at the time of writing, made sense of the Finale. Criticism of this performance centres upon the opening movement. The Berliners would not have been overly familar with this work and it was never part of Karajan's core repertoire (much like Furtwangler). Accordingly, they sound jumpy at the start as if they had not been afforded opportunity to digest the Sixth over time. I daresay several takes were used: by the time the famous 'timpany recapitulation' arrives, some eight minutes in, the Berliners have regained their customary composure and the coda to the first movement is magical - 'Homeric Seas' indeed.

7 - This is the best Seventh in the marketplace. It is arguably the zenith of Karajan's 30 year relationship with the Berlin Phil. Perhaps only Furtwangler has approximated the mastery that is evident in the coda to the first movement. Karajan's grip on the slow movement is infallible - when the great climax comes, one is almost compelled to stand to attention. All in all, this is an overwhelming performance that leaves one smouldering in its wake. It is the Logos, empurpled and enthroned.

8 - This Eighth served its day superbly but according to consensus it has been overshadowed by the alternative that Karajan recorded in Vienna in 1988. The 1957, aptly remastered, has also come into its own. Even so, if this version had been Karajan's only contribution to discography, we would still be declaiming a genius. The Berlin Phil do not falter once. In train, one travels further through the cosmos than Voyager 2.

9 - This is a great 9, and I prefer it to the 1966 alternative. Once heard, the cellos in the coda of the First Movement are never forgotten. As always, Karajan's sense of pacing is unerring. As the finale draws to an end, one is reminded of Lenny's dying words: "What is this?"

All in all, this is life-changing, much like seeing the windows of Chartres for the first time. The original artwork was famous in its own right - the carving of the wing taken from a Greek temple - and it still symbolises the opportunity that is afforded to you, dear reader, if you undertake this Odyssey.
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on 25 November 2011
Perhaps you've noticed that this set has received an exorbitant amount of fame, with many reviewers pointing to this as the definitive set of the Bruckner symphonies. Karajan, we're told, has worked wonders with his Berliners, making for an amazing musical experience.

But I want you to know that this is a terrible set to acquire if you want your Bruckner to be a pleasantry. Perhaps you want to hear the composer interpreted in a matter-of-fact way, eschewing anything that would threaten to grip you or move you too deeply. Karajan cares nothing for the relaxation of his listeners, and he seems to pride himself in his monumental approach to the symphonies. He is taking us to grand heights, soaring above the practicality of life. For this reason, it wouldn't make good background music. It would be too disturbing and moving to listen to this music without giving it your full attention.

Maybe I've scared you away, but I hope and think not. Who ever said that the chief concern in Bruckner is pleasantness? Karajan refuses to let himself be constrained, and his vision in these symphonies is staggering. He is a magnificent master of building the music, preparing us for the impassioned climactic moments without letting go too soon. It would be easy to get lost in the vast scope of things, resulting in chaos. But with Karajan on the podium, never fear. He has a strong grip over his orchestra and everything is done with control, yet vitality is still present. This is not impersonal Bruckner; this is simply Bruckner that is speaking of things that aren't in our reach. The music transports us out of this world, into the skies, if not into heaven itself.

This is what gives this set its almost mysterious nature. Penning a review of this set is no easy task, simply because this is the kind of music that I find to be almost sacred, making it difficult to jot my thoughts down on paper. I'll simply say that it has been a rewarding experience for me to listen to this music, leaving me inspired on every page.

If you're wondering if I think Karajan's way with Bruckner is the only way, I'll be quick to say no. There are certainly other ways one could look at these symphonies, perhaps in a less bombastic way that would spend more time delving into the intricacies of the individual moments. But I don't think anyone is ever going to give us Bruckner that will make us forget Karajan, so glorious is his vision. I don't hesitate to recommend this to all music lovers alike--unless you are wary of the unearthly, of course.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 14 December 2013
Is it true that those giant Karajan reissues by DG of complete recordings by decade, such as the 82CD box of 1970s recordings, are freshly remastered? Very good news if it is, although fans of the Bruckner sessions won't relish having to buy both '70s and '80s box-sets to get the complete Bruckner package. This slimline reissue is cheap and cheerless: an unappealing greyish-white with cardboard sleeves imprinted with giant vulgar numbers on the front. The previous incarnation, if nothing else, was handsome and imposing on the shelf. An eye-catcher. But times change.

By the very late '70s and into the '80s, the Berlin Phil under HvK's aegis were capable of producing such a gargantuan, saturated symphony that the music could be brought down by the sheer burden of imposed weight. Try the Sibelius 5 from that era. This Bruckner cycle, recorded from 1975-83, has fierce analogue and then fierce digital stereo, the latter afflicting Karajan's debut with the early symphonies (Nos.1-3, "Die Nullte" excluded from condescension). When you add the full force of the BPO, Bruckner's little minx and his other problem children are decimated. Some Brucknerians will love that sort of thing, and I'm certainly no fan of the vibrato-free/strings lite/quick-as-we-can school of interpretation, but this is too burdensome to be borne. On the plus side, HvK does choose well - the Linz edition, the 1889 3rd - but as he himself demonstrates elsewhere in the set, an exercise of power need not be one of aggression.

But then, the avalanches keep coming. However beautifully shaped his final version of the 4th, HvK disfigures it by using a corrupted text, one that includes a revolting 'octave-doubling' of the strings in the introduction which can ony be greeted with mind vomit; it's a hangover from the 1889 Lowe edition, generally scrapped (although Vanska recently revived it). Knappertsbusch used to play it but then he was thirty years older than Karajan and never produced Mantovani-like effects in his performances, or maybe those noisy old concert recordings spare us. Even without that, it's another battle zone reading, strings and brass going all out to burst the eardrums. As with the slow movement of No2, HvK's studio take on No.5 has an adagio which feels neverending (and that's not because it's approx. 22mins; Celi's Stuttgart concert went further and his reading was mesmerizing); if you make it to the next stage you'll witness a slaughterhouse, Austrian villagers trampled to death by heedless trolls they inadvisedly invited to the festivities, repeat-repeat. Going back to the adagio, it's worth noting that not one of Karajan's concert renditions went anywhere near as long. I guess he mostly did it better standing up.

No.6 is no great shakes. The Seventh is given a superb reading, more adrenaline than the later Vienna recording but also less sublime, less characterful, less euphoric. the 1975 8th is, overall, a great one, at its best in the second half, though again compare it with his performances in Austria and you find him dancing the music along in a different spirit. The set concludes with a masterful 9th, the great studio 9th and peerless as such. But even at budget price, this box is a hard sell for only 3 great performances out of nine.

Some say Karajan's Bruckner is marred by its transfer from LP to CD. That may very well be true, but no such affliction was incurred by the transfer of Haitink's Concertgebouw cycle when it reappeared in the early 1990s (rec. 1960s-70s). The box is now back in the Bernard Haitink Symphonies Edition (Decca), retailing around £60. Haitink can't compete with Karajan in the popular 7th & 8th but for the rest - which does include No.0 - he and the Dutch orchestra are unmissable, transforming Bruckner's genius from a lumbering teutonic giant into a bold, heroic alpine deity. The readings are very different and a true Bruckner addict would want both conductors, but given the relative scarcity of outstanding interpretations of the early symphonies, themselves in no way negligible despite the popularity of the later epic canvases, Haitink's energetic, sumptuous and maybe more classical take on the form and emotional content of these works make his set a priority. His 'Romantic' is perfectly paced, as is the 5th, and the elusive 6th is given a noble, autumnal reading.

Nothing will part me from Karajan's last ever recording, Bruckner 7 with the VPO (DG Karajan Gold) but this traversal is, in its present incarnation, past its prime.
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on 1 March 2014
Entirely definitive. I first owned these recordings in Record (Vinyl) form, and when they were lost in shipping many years ago, they were replaced very simply by the CD version, which has also benefited from remastering!
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on 7 July 2015
When you remember that Bruckner was born almost 200 years ago , his rather austere but powerful music seems rather ahead of it`s time . This is a classic set but it also pays to invest in other cycles as well . In a way Bruckner could almost be descibed as a cult composer as his music is about as far out as it gets in pre-modern classical music . There are so many reasonably priced Bruckner collections going at the moment that it`s a shame to miss out . Karajan`s incisive virtuoso approach certainly pays huge dividends in the lesser known symphonies such as 1 and 3 .
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on 12 April 2014
This is one of the best Bruckner recording I have heard. The tone and and landscape brillitantly captured in afine recording
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VINE VOICEon 8 April 2014
This is a maddening set of symphonies. No fewer than four of the nine discs contain one symphony and a movement from another. In the case of the eighth symphony its sheer length makes this necessary but in the case of the others it is not. DG's parsimony quite spoils the listening experience.
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on 3 March 2013
It's awesome, it's amazing... it's a must have for any serious recorded music collection...
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on 16 August 2015
Look no further - as fine as performances of these seminal works gets
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