Streaming the Classics—2/Beethoven: The 9 Symphonies—Box Sets

public.jpeg

Do you ever type a streaming query in Roon for a classical work and are overwhelmed by the choices? Rather than clicking on any old recording or the first one you see, Audiophilia will make things a little easier for you and do the heavy listening.

These choices are for streaming only. Is the best in streaming also the best vinyl recording and performance? That’s for another article.

A few criteria:

  1. Recording must be on both Qobuz and Tidal HiFi.

  2. It does not have to be HiRes or MQA.

  3. No more than ten recommendations in no particular order, then my top three for streaming in order of preference.

public.jpeg

That’s it. Each post will not be exhaustive—a few notes about the recording and performance and lots of nice photos. Then we’ll get you back to listening.

We’ll tell you about recordings that surprised us (either way) and go into a little more detail why we chose a top three.

Like much of the mainstream repertoire on streaming services, you’ll get several versions of popular performances, reissues, rights purchased by small companies, conglomerate takeovers (note Warner Music for example), etc.

public.jpeg

In my ten picks below, you’ll find several versions of most. Go for the label I suggest. It’s usually the original or has been painstakingly remastered by the owners of the master tape. With some, like the splendid and hugely underrated René Leibowitz set, they’ve been passed around to death. It was originally released on a Readers Digest set, but recorded by the great team at RCA and produced by Charles Gerhardt. I think you’ll agree, it’s wonderful.

public.jpeg
  1. Karajan/Philharmonia/EMI

  2. Karajan/Berlin Phil/DG (1963)

  3. Karajan/Berlin Phil/DG (1977)

  4. Furtwangler/Berlin Phil/Warner

  5. Klemperer/Philharmonia/EMI

  6. Wand/NDR Sinfonieorchester/RCA

  7. Walter/Columbia Symphony/CBS

  8. Leibowitz/Royal Phil/Various reissues

  9. Bernstein/Vienna Phil/DG

  10. Jansons/Bavarian Radio Symphony/BR Klassik

public.jpeg

We’re also looking for consistency. The famous 1963 Karajan DG set, with over a million copies sold, is stunning in execution with the exception of a rather underpowered ‘Pastoral’. It’s still good, but there are better.

Tempi? Always a problem for conductors of Beethoven symphonies. Have you seen his tempo markings? Many of them are blisteringly fast. Maybe too fast? The magnificent Beethoven conductor, Otto Klemperer is known for his slow tempi (never dragging), so be aware before you chose. I love his tempos.

public.jpeg

You want original, fast readings? Check out HIP performances not included in this list, especially those by Brüggen on Philips and Norrington on EMI. Both beautifully played.

A gentle reminder that the Furtwängler and Karajan/Philharmonia set are in glorious mono. Yes, still wonderful sound.

public.jpeg

There is lots to admire in every set—recording is good to great (Klemperer EMI) and the performances are all wonderful. If only Carlos Kleiber would have completed a full set with the Vienna Phil on DG. His only two instalments, 5 and 7, are still the performances to beat.

My three choices in a order:

  1. Karajan DG (1963)

  2. Klemperer EMI (his later set in stereo)

  3. Walter (Columbia)

public.jpeg

Bruno Walter’s set is outstanding with his own Columbia Symphony Orchestra, made up of LA and NY Phils, freelancers and studios players, coast dependent. The Columbia recording is excellent and Walter is true to his incredibly musical word in every symphony.

Klemperer? Awesome in every symphony—my desert island Beethoven. And consistently brilliant EMI recording. If you make a mistake and play his earlier EMI/Philharmonia set on mono, no worries. It’s fabulous, too.

And finally Karajan. He owns the set, with three incredible cycles and consistently brilliant playing that has become the benchmark for modern orchestral execution. Each has its wonders, but the 1963 set is the one to have. It’s been reissued umpteen times—I remember purchasing it Boxing Day at Sam the Record Man in Toronto for CAD$19 in 1990. What a deal.

Bonus

If you have time to pick and choose on Roon, here’s an individual 1-9 list:

  1. Klemperer

  2. Walter

  3. Karajan (1963)

  4. Walter

  5. Kleiber

  6. Ashkenazy/Philharmonia/Decca

  7. Kleiber

  8. Karajan (1963)

  9. Wand

Let me know your favourite sets (or individual) below. Enjoy and happy streaming.