Karl Böhm's Beethoven is, on balance, the best complete cycle available from Deutsche Grammophon. This will come as a surprise to many, given the fact that the label relentlessly promotes performances by Herbert von Karajan (three complete cycles!) and Leonard Bernstein, but for quality of playing, as well as superb sound, these versions are just about unbeatable. And at a "twofer" price, the complete set on three pairs of discs is a terrific value. –David Hurwitz
Recorded between 1964 and 1968, Paul Kletzki's respected cycle of Ludwig van Beethoven's symphonies on Supraphon rightly should be classified as a historical item for specialists, rather than as a recommended option for anyone seeking a great (and great sounding) modern set. Kletzki was an admired and popular conductor, noted for working with both European and American orchestras, and his interpretations of Beethoven are intelligent and insightful, regarded by some reviewers as among the finest of their time; the performances are still valuable for their musicality and significance among mid-20th century offerings.
Major documents from Rudolf Kempe's later years at the head of the Munich Philharmonic. Beethoven's Fifth, that masterpiece of emotional tension, and his Sixth, all vivid depiction of nature, are both readings of maturity and perfection.
Firma Melodiya presents a unique boxed set with recordings of Beethoven’s symphonies 1 to 8 conducted by Rudolf Barshai. One of the most prominent representatives of domestic music performing art of the 20th century, Rudolf Barshai was a man of amazingly versatile talents. His character combined obsession of a seeker and explorer of new sides to performance with an aspiration for his own creative way avoiding a bitten path.
This is one of the greatest recordings of the famous Ninth Symphony. It has long been overshadowed by Karajan's three recordings for the same label, as well as Bernstein's version with the same orchestra. But put them all on your CD player and compare, and this is the one you'll be coming back to. Böhm was the least glamorous of conductors, but he approaches the Ninth with messianic zeal and a fanatical gleam in his eye. The opening movement is a cataclysm, the sublime slow movement never loses its contemplative flow, and everyone involved simply sings and plays the pants off of the finale. If the final minute or two doesn't pull you right out of your seat, nothing will. Grab it while you can at this "twofer" price. It's a steal. –David Hurwitz
Karl Böhm's Vienna Philharmonic Beethoven cycle is Deutsche Grammophon's best kept secret. Not only is it the finest complete set of Beethoven symphonies in their catalog, it's also far and away the best recorded, and to make matters even more irresistible, it's also the least expensive (it's available on three "twofer" sets). These performances are typical: weighty, intense, powerful, and magnificently played. Listen especially to the (comparatively) neglected Fourth Symphony: if Böhm doesn't convince you that this is major Beethoven, then no one can.
This must be one of the year's best performances of the Ninth Symphony. Not a trace of lofty heroism here - Mariss Jansons and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra bring out the life-affirming aspects of the work, culminating in a hymn of heartfelt naturalness from which the audience draws inner strength' (Mostly Classic).