Peter Mechen surveys some of the great Beethoven symphony cycles: from the intense and visionary accounts of Bruno Walter in 1949, to the formative 1962 Karajan recordings, and into the 21st century with rewarding period instrument performances by the likes of John Eliot Gardiner and Jos van Immerseel.
Classic mid-20th century recordings
Peter Mechen introduces us to Beethoven’s striking individuality as a symphonist with two classic recordings from the 60s: Otto Klemperer with the Philharmonia and Herbert von Karajan conducting the Berlin Philharmonic. We also get a taste of the grandeur and cosmic energy Bruno Walter was able to convey with the New York Philharmonic in a 1949 recording from the mono years.
Historically-informed modern instrument orchestras
Then we take a quantum leap into the 21st century with Riccardo Chailly and Christian Thielemann conducting modern instrument orchestras, paying attention to details such as actual markings in the Peters Edition. “The results are in many places breath-taking, and totally exhilarating.”
Period instrument performances
Finally, two rewarding cycles beautifully capturing the sound of period instruments and authentic performance practices: John Eliot Gardiner and his Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique recorded in 1994, and Jos van Immerseel conducting Anima Eterna in a 2008 traversal of the symphonies.
Philharmonia Orch / Otto Klemperer (EMI CDC 747-184)
Berlin Phil / Herbert von Karajan (DG 429-036)
New York Phil / Bruno Walter (Music and Arts CD1137)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orch / Riccardo Chailly (Decca 478 349)
Vienna Phil /Christian Thielemann (Sony 88697 92717)
Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique / John Eliot Gardiner (Archiv 439 900)
Anima Eterna / Jos van Immerseel (Zig Zag ZZT 080 402.6)