...Newbee - Beethoven Symphonies - Box Set - Where to Start??

Started by ethan417, June 09, 2020, 08:08:53 PM

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Hi Everyone
I hope you are safe and well.

Being that I have some time on my hands, I thought it might be fun to explore a quality performance/recording of the 9 symphonies.

I'm looking for suggestions.

I grew up listening to the George Szell recordings - which I own.

After a lot of reading - I realize that there is no perfect box set.

I realize that my question is subjective.

Here is the focus of my search.

Great interpretation without regard to modern sonic quality.
Great interpretation with great sonic quality.

Finally a question about remastering.

For some recordings like the Herbert Von Karajan 1963 cycle, there are multiple CD releases. Which one is sonically the best?

Another example of multiple CD release - Nikolaus Harnoncourt & Chamber Orchestra of Europe - there is a 1991 release and also a 2008 release - same recording. Is there a quality difference?

Many thanks for your help.

- Ethan

Karl Henning

Hi, Ethan. Welcome to GMG! Lately I have been listening to the Blomstedt/San Francisco set, which I am enjoying very well.  I also like Masur's Gewandhausorchester set. Well and the Harnoncourt/COE box, which is symphonies plus.  If you're game for a HIP set, I really enjoy the Jos van Immerseel/Anima eterna set.
Karl Henning, Ph.D.
Composer & Clarinetist
Boston MA
[Matisse] was interested neither in fending off opposition,
nor in competing for the favor of wayward friends.
His only competition was with himself. — Françoise Gilot


Hello Ethan, as you've surmised there is no perfect set. Even the very good ones have at least one dud symphony. A lot, too, depends on how you want your symphonies played.

You are going to get many recommendations in this thread from some very knowledgable people. So what do I want a Beethove symphony to sound like. Three things are important to me - rhythmic tautness, a goods sense of speed for the particular work and the ability to channel Beethoven on an emotional level.

Fritz Reiner has all three but his Eroica is not up to scratch. Also it's not a box set.

Toscanini has to be considered and I'd go for the remastered version. Th s is the one I would choose but there are others. The Pastoral is a definite let down and there is a better Eroica by him elsewhere.

I really like the Rene Leibowitz recordings but the the bass he used for the last movt of the 9th is poor. You'd have to buy the symphonies separately (they're usually paired).

Three more choices


The two I return to the most are the previously mentioned Reiner and close to my top recommendation is this:

You are going to get many more thoughts from others. Ifyou have Spotify you can check them out.

Good luck


some guy


To my knowledge there is not difference/remastering between the Harnoncourt issues, it's a straight reissue. They are very good but in no way as special anymore as the clearly were almost 30 years ago when they came out.
Karajan early 60s has been a standard recommendation for decades but I think they are overrated, get it cheaply or get the 5th and 9th (one of the best sets of soloists) separately. There is at least one SACD issue (but I don't know about the actual improvements).
Tout le malheur des hommes vient d'une seule chose, qui est de ne savoir pas demeurer en repos, dans une chambre.
- Blaise Pascal

(poco) Sforzando

You're going to find a lot of disagreement. On the whole, I think you've done very well with Szell. I do not much care for Harnoncourt, or for as much of Immerseel as I've been able to get through. A very good version is Charles Mackerras with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (who like Szell, is in the Toscanini tradition of clear textures and steady tempos, but with better sound).
"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."

david johnson

Greetings to you, ethan417.  Your Szell box is fine, for sure.  I keep the Klemperer/Philarmonia and the HvK/'63 for my main boxes.  I have a variety of singles, of course.  In the cloud I have the Schmidt-Isserstedt/VPO box.  Try the Fricsay 9th on DG.  :)


As you have a fine complete set from Szell you should consider Erich Kleiber's partial cycle (no 2 or 4) from Decca. The recording is mono but still very good. The Eroica with the Vienna Philharmonic is my all time favourite for that work, marginally ahead of Bernstein/NYPO. Bernstein's NYPO cycle is also very fine, the only dud being No 5; baffingly, to me, many people rate this as their favourite version, I find it horribly plodding, in contrast to the other dynamic performances in the cycle.

(poco) Sforzando

"I don't know what sforzando means, though it clearly means something."