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Beethoven's Symphonies Ancient instruments Ninth symphony Tenth symphony Transcriptions List

This section is not intended to be a review of existing CDs. Good critics have done this already, and are experts on the subject. I just wish to draw your attention to particular works and interpretations.
Title Choose a performance…

It is not easy to make a selection amongst the great number of performances which exist. Many are of very great musical quality. Every listener prefers the sound of a particular orchestra or the guidance of a particular conductor, by recommendation of another.

Here then is a selection of recordings: for your selection. If you wish to enrich the list and give us your opinion on cycles of the Beethoven Symphonies which are not already presented, we would welcome it. Thank you.

Title Arturo TOSCANINI - Recordings from 1939

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Naxos - 1939

The Italian conductor, with his famous temper, recorded the complete symphonies of Beethoven in 1939 with the NBC Symphony Orchestra, created expressly for him.

The energy and rapid tempo of the maestro carries us to a brilliant and rhythmical Beethoven.

A reference!

Note, also in the set of 6 Cds, the Overtures to Fidelio, Coriolan and Egmont; the Sextet arranged for orchestra by Toscanini and the Choral Fantasy opus 80.

Title Otto KLEMPERER - Recordings from 1948 to 1954

Disque Beethoven
Emi - 1955-1959

Klemperer has left many cycles of the symphonies of Beethoven, perhaps the composer closest to his heart together with Bach and Brahms.

The most famous, and, incontestably, the most successful is that which he made with the Philharmonia Orchestra between 1955 and 1959.  The tempi are not as slow as is frequently said, but are always driven by a search for inspiration and of an epic profundity rarely equaled,  without sacrificing the precision and an absolute respect for the text.

A Beethoven at once dramatic and balanced: a powerfully structured architecture, the contrasts of the colours entirely mastered and never stressed, a tuning to the millimeter of the different orchestral masses.  A great poetical and metaphysical experience...

Mathieu Carpentier

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Title Wilhelm FURTWÄNGLER - Recordings from 1948 to 1954

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Emi - 1948-1954

The skill of Furtwängler, controversial, transcendent, traversing the epochs, makes him a legendary conductor.

He recorded more than ten versions of the Fifth and as many of the Ninth Symphony. We can live and re live his passion with these recordings.

The great pages of Beethoven!

Title Leonard BERNSTEIN - Recordings from 1958 to 1964

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Sony - 1958-1964

Leonard Bernstein conducts the New York Philharmonic in a powerful performance of Beethoven.

Furthermore, if you find this collection in Sony’s “The Royal Addition”, the booklets are remarkably well researched.

The booklet of the CD, on the left, includes a presentation (in English) of the 3rd Symphony by Bernstein: “How a great symphony was written”. There is also a CD of the Fifth Symphony with a presentation of this symphony in many languages.

Title Herbert von KARAJAN - Recordings from 1961 to 1962

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Deutsche Grammophon - 1963

Adulated by some, rejected by others, Herbert von Karajan leaves no one indifferent. His many performances of Beethoven exude the power of the music of the composer and are found in this set of complete symphonies which is high in colour.

Karajan recorded many cycles of Beethoven’s symphonies and each one is different. It is for you to choose the Karajan version which you prefer.

That from 1963 is of very great musical and technical quality. For you to see, or rather listen!

Title Alain LOMBARD - Recordings from 1991

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Forlane - 1991

This is a unique Beethoven cycle performed by a French orchestra with a French conductor.

People enjoy listening to famous orchestras. Here, the Orchestre National de Bordeaux Aquitaine perhaps matches them under the baton of Alain Lombard (he has also recorded the complete symphonies of Schubert).

The sound is very colourful, and there is no lack of dynamic attacks and melodious harmonies, if one appreciates interpretations which are a little slow.

Title Roger NORRINGTON - Recordings from 2002

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Hänssler - 2003

When one speaks of Sir Roger, one thinks of the London Classical Players and of period instruments. Here, Norrington conducts the SWR – Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart, with the instruments of our time, and appropriate period wind instruments (blending harmonies with a very beautiful effect).

This cycle is a great success: brilliant, refined, full of life and spirit. Often the tempo is faster than traditional interpretations, particularly in the Seventh. But the Sixth, notably, what a fine example!

One may ask why it is so difficult to obtain these five Cds... One other set recorded recently benefited from an exaggeratedly eulogistic reception.

The cycle is from the beginning of the 21st century, don’t doubt it, listen to it!

Title ZANDER: In search of Beethoven's tempo

Cd Beethoven - Symphony

The fifth and the seventh symphonies

Benjamin Zander gives us this enthusiastic and energetic performance of Beethoven's works, played as the composer wrote them - that is to say, respecting Beethoven's tempo.

One can be forgiven for thinking that this has already been done, and done well. This is not so. Publishers, habits, simplicity have all combined to elongate these musical creations. In fact, we are, today, a long way from the interpretation that Beethoven originally intended.

This is a great experience that Zander presents: to discover Beethoven in a way in which we have never done so before.

After the initial surprise, it's with pleasure that we embark on the listening and understanding of Beethoven's music, as he intended it, from which we are so far.

Zander has produced a great piece of work here. Well done! We wait for the full works with anticipation.

As well as this, on the CD, the conductor comments on and explains his choices.

If you've never heard this you're missing out...

Recorded in London in October 1998.

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Title The reunification of the two Germanys: Daniel BARENBOIM / Leonard BERNSTEIN

9th November 1989, the Central Committee of the Socialist Party of East Germany announces the lifting of checks for passing from East to West. It is a stampede. Everywhere in the rush, the Germans are playing music and celebrating.

Sunday 12th November, Daniel Barenboim offers a concert to the inhabitants of East Germany. He chooses two works of Beethoven: the first piano concerto and the seventh symphony.

Daniel Barenboim then conducted the Berlin Philharmonic.

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Sony Classics
Daniel Barenboim
November 12th, 1989

Christmas Day, December 25th 1989, Leonard Bernstein, in the Schauspielhaus in Berlin, conducts an orchestra consisting of members of many European orchestras, and many German choirs.

Considered the musical event of 1989, this concert, symbolizing peace between peoples, was the ideal occasion to perform the 9th Symphony of Beethoven.

On its release in France, a limited edition included a piece of the Berlin Wall!

A historic disc.

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Deutsche Grammophon
Leonard Bernstein
December 25th, 1989

Title Beethoven for pleasure: Thomas FEY

These recordings are astonishing. They exude a vitality and joy of life which is very refreshing. Every bar is fully employed and the listener experiences the evident enjoyment of the conductor and orchestra. A veritable delight for the ear.

Thomas Fey conducts the young Heidelberger Sinfoniker. The brass and percussion play on period instruments.

Now available: a CD with symphonies 1 and 2, a CD with symphonies 4 and 6. The remainder of the symphonies are probably more difficult…

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Hänssler Classic
Thomas Fey
2000 and 2001

Title The reorchestrations of Gustav MAHLER

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
1895 Version
Bridge - 1992
Brno Philhamonic Orchestra



Gustav Mahler reorchestrated all the symphonies of Ludwig van Beethoven. He explained his motivation and its value by the fact that, on the one hand, modern halls and instruments were different to those at the time of composition, and on the other, that the onset of Beethoven’s deafness would have distorted his judgment, particularly that regarding instrumental forces.

Of the nine symphonies thus reorchestrated, two recordings of the Ninth exist: one using Mahler’s version of 1895, and the other the last version of the composer, from about 1908-1909.

Cd Beethoven - Symphony
Final version
Centaur - 1992
Cincinnati Philhamonia Orchestra



Both booklets are remarkably explicit on the adaptations to which they refer. If Mahler was harshly criticized at the time, the passing of time allows us to view his realizations with more benevolence.

Two very interesting Cds.

Also see the sketches of the symphonies
Many thanks to Melanie PIDDOCKE for her translation of this page from French into English
© Dominique PREVOT
Music Sheet Plus

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