Karajan recorded the complete Beethoven symphonies four times and this set, made in Paris and Vienna with the Philharmonia, is the earliest. The producer was Walter Legge who was as much of a perfectionist as was Karajan and the 1950's sound still sounds remarkable for its date - the balance is so good that the fact the majority of the sessions are mono is easily forgotten. The orchestra was at its early peak and plays with an efforless vituosity that is a joy to hear.
Karajan was at the very height of his powers and the performances here are full of vigour and appolonian excitement. They are of the school of Weingartner and Toscanini and very different to the deeply subjective, although equally valid, interpretations of Furtwangler. Without any annoying mannerisms they maintain their freshness after half a century and the cycle remains among the very finest in the catalogue.
Whether this is the finest of Karajan's cycles is open to debate but it's certainly the one I return to most often and have done so for at least thirty years. None of the performances are duds but the fifth, seventh and ninth - with a splendid solo quartet - are truly outstanding.
The remastering has been well done and the set deserves a place on the shelves of any lover of Beethoven's music. Highly recommended.