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4.4 out of 5 stars
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Beethoven's complete symphony cycles increase steadily through the years, from the early 1940's Furtwangler mono recordings, to the much cherished 1960's Karajan analogue stereo vinyl pressings, and now the digital versions on CD.

What's best is a matter of choice depending on whether the importance lies in authenticity in terms of both period instruments and accuracy of playing to the accepted `correct' score (currently the Barenreiter/Jonathan Del Mar versions), or maybe just sheer excitement in listening experience is of priority.

This set of recordings by the London Symphony Orchestra on their own LSO Live label has combined digital recording methods with a `Live' venue (London's Barbican) to produce an absolutely stunning version of the complete Beethoven symphonies.

In my view this set finds its way to the top of the ever-increasing pile for several reasons. The recordings are of a stunningly clear quality - even better if played on a SACD player - the performances are dramatic and enthusiastic but never succumbing to over-interpretation by the conductor. Bernard Haitink does the job to perfection. All the recordings were made between 2005 and 2006, each symphony recorded over two consecutive days, and although the sleeve notes state the performances are `live' there is absolutely no sign of audience noise so presumably there was none.

The highlights of this set are many, but for me the dramatic 4th movement of the 5th symphony and the entire 9th symphony are Beethoven played to perfection.

The CDs are presented in card sleeves in a compact box containing a 64 page booklet (English, French & German) with symphony notes, soloist biographies and photos, and a complete list of names of all the LSO players and London Symphony Chorus singers.

An essential addition to any Beethoven collection.
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Having realised their magnificence I've been obliged to delete my first, slightly sceptical review of the contents of this box. One moral is; don't write a review of something until you've heard it on decent equipment under optimal conditions. But the more fundamental reason for my initial difficulties was that Haitink's exhaustive micro-management of every dynamic detail of these works turns them into something quite unlike any kind of Beethoven I had been acquainted with before. Nothing was quite where or when I had learned to expect it to be. The combination of superb recording and consummate playing gives us performances of remarkable instrumental separation. But add to this Haitink's dynamic control, and a new vision of the full dimensionality of the mechanism by which all the instrumental parts are united springs into relief. Each of the symphonies is revealed to be an exotic new planet which Haitink allows us to set foot and walk upon. It's hard even to conceive of these as being of their period. They could have been written yesterday for all that we can tell. Something I'm sure Ludwig would have been most gratified to witness. Given such a kaleidoscopic depth of detail the usual assessments as to which are the major, and which the minor symphonies are shredded. In this set, there are no minor Beethoven symphonies. For instance, I've always had a soft-spot for the eighth, and an intuition that with the right approach it could be turned into something far more substantial than one typically hears. Haitink obliges with a performance that ranges between alien beauty and a writhing beast. Consequently I've had its strains locked in my head for the past few days now, and I'm in no hurry for them to depart. Similar things could be said for the other works. As I write, the storm has just broken in the latter parts of the sixth, and I am reminded anew of the genuine fear and trembling that this piece can and was meant to evoke.

Another definitive component that I discern in these performances is the timpani used, which are some of the most formidable I have heard. One is used to low thumpish-booms from timpani, which have got crisper over the years as recording and playback technologies have improved. But these things have language skills; their articulating layers of colour and resonance unfold in the ear in the way good wine or coffee does on the palette. The result, often in combination with seriously gruff and biting low strings can give rise to an almost rock-like sound that can really lift one out of one's shoes.

It is a truism that all performances of great works are interpretations. But there are interpretations and interpretations, and these are most certainly interpretations. Period Beethoven they are not. These are re-visionings of canonical masterworks, for the twenty-first century. May the possibility of such re-visionings never end.
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on 14 March 2008
This is an absolute bargain for the quality and scope of what you are getting.

Sonically the multi-channel recordings are consistently outstanding - allowing the music to breathe new air. The interpretation by Bernard Haitink and the London Symphony Orchestra is a revelation, at times driven and forward moving, at other times laconic and reflective - revealing layers in the music that are not apparent in the more 'famous' recordings to date. Once you have heard this set you will understand much more clearly why Beethoven was seen by his contemporaries to be smashing apart the symphonic form in length, scope, theme and complexity.

Wherever you look on this set there are musical rewards to be found. As if that wasn't enough you also have the Leonore Overture (No. 2) and the Triple Concerto.

I could go on, but you don't have all week to read reviews. Simply a 'must have' for any modern classical music lover (in my humble opinion).
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on 18 May 2011
I have lived with Beethoven for many many years. These symphonies I know especially well. I cherish several of the Böhm, Karajan, Kleiber (both father and son) but also Brüggen recordings. Then this set appeared, on SACD and in modern recordings, by a director who has long been a favourite of mine in e.g. Bruckner, but also as accompanist of many great soloists over decades.

I won't repeat all what was already said by others. I too had instant hits like his rendering of the 3rd and 9th symphonies - simply superb. In other symphonies, and especially in the 6th which is very close to my heart, I felt more detached while listening. What's going on here, I was wondering. Before I tell you so, and for a reason, I will remark that I had no problems with the recording quality - which on my fairly expensive set-up is simply very good.

I decided that Haitink has deserved the respect that we give him some time. And now, listening to the 6th for the 3rd or 4th time, it is really starting to make sense to me. This is not the Beethoven of a man who wants to prove his point. Nor the Beethoven of a director who wants to be heard to look like one of the pictures of Beethoven. Instead, Haitink is simply himself - while paying great respect to Beethoven's markings. And, I dare say, also to Beethoven's ideas. This is the Beethoven of a mature conductor and great musician who is beyond the need to prove his point.

Highly recommended.
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on 14 September 2007
If you want to know what it feels like to conduct a Beethoven symphony, buy this CD. The performances are outstanding. From the most energetic, ryhthmically driving passages to the most delicately subtle, the orchestra performs with breathtaking skill, all held together by a clearly brilliant conductor.
The quality of the recording is also superb. There is clarity and warmth. Every instrument has a distinct position in space. You feel like you are standing in front of them getting your own personal performance of these wonderful pieces of music. The dynamics are wide and the textures are rich. A great way to appreciate the genius of LVB.
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on 29 April 2010
This set gives me the impression that Haitink has ruminated on these symphonies his whole life, and has now committed his thoughts to disc, and with the aid of a truly virtuosic orchestra. You don't need a period instrument ensemble to express what Beethoven wanted; the performance is what matters, not the instruments, and these performances always seem just right. This is one of the most satisfying box sets in the whole catalogue.
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on 1 July 2011
It's hard to know where to begin. Each of these performances reinvents Beethoven more than any other recording I am aware of. The only other sets of Beethoven symphonies of the last 60+ years that compare with it in greatness are Furtwangler's in a combination of EMI and DG pressings and Bernstein's Vienna DG set, highly recommended for improved sound in the new Japanese super high density but also very expensive pressing. If you acquire the Haitink and the Bernstein, which is more traditional but equally great, you will have a lifetime's worth of good listening ahead of you. And the sound on both of these sets is extremely good, which is why I must rule out the Furtwangler's performances even though they are also in the same league.
Also, a fantastic bonus that comes with this set is the best Triple Concerto I have ever heard and, here, the sound is outstandingly fine; whereas the Bernstein set is filled out with Beethoven overtures in performances that are not nearly as good as the symphonies.
If it comes to push and shove with your pocketbook get this one first.
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on 10 February 2009
A brilliant realisation of Beethoven - neither too dry nor over-indulgent. Each symphony comes to life so vividly that it seems to step out of the CD player and right into the room.

The first, fourth, and ninth are stunning performances, but to be honest there is no weak link in the chain. And the sleeve notes (by Lindsay Kemp) are first rate.

If you've never encountered Beethoven then this set is an introduction to his genius that will blow you away.
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on 12 August 2011
This is one of the great modern Beethoven sets. Haitink has completely rethought his interpretations to produce one of the most joyous and energetic Beethoven performances on disc. Highlights are Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7 and 8 in particular, with No. 9 only just failing to reproduce the apocalyptic energy of Haitink's live performance, mainly due to the sound quality.

I'm normally not a Haitink fan - too often I find his interpretations worthy but a bit stodgy and lacking in energy and excitement. This is exactly the opposite - one of the most consistently exciting Beethoven recordings on CD.
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on 10 February 2016
Looking for a modern set of Beethoven' s symphonies (other than Abaddo's - my preference - I was lucky ordering Haitink with LSO. Despite some other reviewers' opinions, I consider it is technically superb - cristal sound, warmth, very good dinamic, I could listen to the finest details. Even if on my sacd player, it could sound not perfect, using a Senn HD 598 headphones, I felt I would be in the Barbican. Very good scene, each instrument is distinct - A pleasure to listen to.I have Abbado with BPO on dvd, so I consider this set to be the best option for a modern one on cd/sacd.

As for the music itself, what could I say? Some symphonies (#3. #4, #7, #9 especially) seems to me to be the top of the top. No matter how many complete sets I have, I will look for this one again and again. It' s fest!
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