Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra / Herbert von Karajan

Beethoven: The Nine Symphonies [1963]

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Herbert von Karajan recorded Ludwig van Beethoven's complete symphonies four times, first in the 1950s with the Philharmonia Orchestra on EMI, then on three more occasions with the Berlin Philharmonic for Deutsche Grammophon. Karajan's 1963 cycle with Berlin is highly regarded by fans for its consistent interpretations and energetic and emotional playing. Collectors usually rate this set higher than the 1977 and 1985 recordings, also with Berlin on DG, which have been criticized for being somewhat more mechanical in performance and clinical in sound quality. That said, Karajan's Beethoven is decidedly a product of the mid-20th century, following conventions that tended toward homogenization of orchestral colors, broad pacing, and an exaggerated sense of the heroic, particularly in the Third, Fifth, Seventh, and Ninth. Before the advent of the movement for period performance practices and the wide use of original 18th and 19th century instruments, Karajan's recordings were widely accepted as the gold standard for Beethoven, though the historically informed interpretations by John Eliot Gardiner, Roy Goodman, and Christopher Hogwood have, by way of comparison, made most of the mainstream versions of Beethoven seem heavy and stodgy. Listeners who grew up with Karajan's recordings will appreciate this set, though they are likely to own it already.

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