on June 1, 2011
This Beethoven Complete Edition Box is one of the best investments you could make in your classical music collection. Brilliant Classics has done a remarkable job in presenting 85 CDs that cover just about everything Beethoven ever composed, and to my ears, probably a tad more than most of us will ever really listen to. Almost nothing in this set would get a one star if I were rating it alone, and the majority of the set would get somewhere between four and five stars. As a beginning set, or one to fill out your existing Beethoven collection, this is simply a knock out.
Let me address the major groupings in the set, and try to rate them in a way that makes sense - one rating for performance and the other for sound quality.
Symphonies and Concertos. Performance: 4 stars, Sound: 4 stars. Herbert Blomstedt and the Staatskapelle Dresden performing the symphonies. While not Solti, Walter, or Karajan, I am glad to have added these recordings to my collection. Tempos are a little slow, and the equalization is a touch dark - partially due to recording location. However the performances are clear, stereo separation is remarkable. Gulda on piano with Stein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic on most of the piano concertos is a real find. I had heard of neither pianist nor conductor before purchasing this set, but these are as fine a performance of these works as anything in my collection. (Turns out Gulda was a real character - a transgenre'd artist who faked his own death.) But the hidden treasure in this part of the collection is Stanislav Skrowaczevski conducting the Minnesota Orchestra on overtures and orchestral showpieces. Clear recordings and fantastic performances. I own his Bruckner recordings, and he is one of the most under-rated conductors of the modern era.
The Chamber Music. Performance 4 stars. Sound: 5 stars. The highlights of this part of the collection are the Piano Trios by the Borodin Trio, the Cello Sonatas by Heinrich Schiff, and the flute discs. The only slight disappointment - the violin sonatas. They were recorded in the 1950s, and sound it. Performances by Grumiaux and Haskell are quite good, though, and make up for the dated sound.
The String Quartets: Performance: 5 stars. Sound: 4. I don't exactly know what to say here. If you can find this set separately, it is going to set you back at least 40 American bucks. I have a nice stereo with a Nu-Force digital-to-analog converter, and Linn speakers. Audiophile stuff. If these were bad, I'd hear it. What I do hear is texture, sound stage, and lots of "gorgeous." The Guarneri Quartet plays these pieces with precision, conviction. Detailed, almost three dimensional sound. I think the Alexander Quartet box set is the gold standard for the Beethoven string quartets, at least to my taste. But what you get here will be all most people ever need or want.
The Piano Sonatas. Performance: 5 stars. Sound: 3 stars. This is Alfred Brendel's early 1960's set - originally offered as a Vox Box. Dating myself, but that was the budget label of the sixties. And back then, budget usually meant substandard sound and engineering. Love the performances. The sound varies from really good - clear with great acoustics - to slightly muddy, boxy sounding acoustics. But folks, this is Brendel and he turns in one of the best performances of Moonlight Sonata, and the Pathétique Sonata on CD. I am quite tickled that I now own a complete Brendel cycle, even if the critics say it's not his best.
The Stage Works. Performance: 5 stars, Sound: 5 stars. This set contains two versions of Fidelio. Leonora, the earlier version, is a 1970s recording with Herbert Blomstedt and the Staatskapelle Dresden. Fidelio is conducted by Dohnanyi with the Vienna Philharmonic. The singing is competent, the recordings are top notch. My only complaint with this section is the recording of the oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives. A slow, amateur performance with unacceptable engineering. Worst CD in the set. But I cannot subtract a star for one bad CD.
The Songs and Arias. Performance: 15 stars. Sound: 1000 stars. Enough said. If there was any doubt by now that this set was worth the asking price, these CDs pushed it over the top. Songs in German, English. You get Irish songs, you get Welsh songs, you get Scotch tunes, and even riddle and jokes pieces. No famous opera stars, but the singers all turn in convincing, reliable performances. This kind of music sounded wonderful in the Mozart set, and likewise here.
Summary. Can you get better recordings of these pieces? Yes. But it all comes down to time and money. 84 of 85 discs in this set are top drawer performances, most sound like they are of the digital age - the rest you accept because of the quality of the performances. I picked the set up for 27 dollars here on Amazon. Knowing what I know now, after hearing these CDs - they really are worth the asking price. This is an obscenely good deal, and I am feeling quite of a bit of "pride of ownership."
on August 1, 2011
This box set is presented as an economical way of hearing practically all of Beethoven's musical output, and on a per disc basis it is indeed quite cheap. However, for those looking for "special" recordings the story is more complicated - paying $100 for 85 discs of mediocre performances isn't really a bargain in their eyes. Thankfully there is quite a lot to like about this box set besides its completeness factor, but its value will really depend on what exactly you are looking for.
Some people will be most interested in the "core" cycles of Beethoven's repertoire - the symphonies, concertos, string quartets, piano trios, cello and violin sonatas, and finally the piano sonatas. There are some important non-cycle works that also fall in this category like the Missa Solemnis, the Diabelli Variations, Leonore/Fidelio and other incidental music, and the late bagatelles. Other people will be most interested in the lesser-known miscellanea that are harder to find on disc. I identify more with the former, so this review is focused on those items. But consider this - the core works listed above account for roughly half of the total music contained this box - There is plenty here to explore for Beethoven-philes, and I expect it will be a long time before I have listened to all of these discs.
Herbert Blomstedt's symphonies with the Dresden Staatskapelle are a definite highlight of this box. You could probably find other recordings of any of the individual symphonies that are more special, detailed, profound or passionate, but as a whole this is a remarkably consistent and satisfying cycle. The Dresden group offer great ensemble qualities and plenty of energetic and dedicated playing. Fortunately they are captured in full-bodied, gorgeous late analogue stereo sound. I have been very impressed by symphonies #2, 3, 4, 6, 7 and 9, and the other ones are nearly as good. The 5th lacks some of the visceral intensity many people expect after hearing Kleiber, but as a more classical take it is just fine.
Freidrich Gulda and Horst Stein conducting the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra provide respectable recordings of the piano concertos. Gulda's playing can seem cool and calculating at times, and the orchestral part can seem a bit plain, but overall there are no glaring issues. Mainly the problem is that there is no shortage of recordings of these works and it's not difficult or expensive to find more interesting and special interpretations. Sound is good for the recording period (early 70s).
Henryk Szeryng's Violin Concerto with Bernard Haitink and the Royal Concertgebow Orchestra takes an expansive approach to the piece, managing to draw it out to a full 45 minutes. The playing is very beautiful and in great late-stereo sound, but those looking for excitement in this work may be disappointed. Heifetz/Munch provides a good amount of drive and excitement, whereas Tetzlaff/Zinman manages to strike a balance between the two approaches and is quite inexpensive (the same applies to the remainder of Zinman's great concerto cycle). The Tetzlaff is my current favorite.
The cello sonatas with Heinrich Schiff and Till Fellner are top notch - Schiff is a brilliant cellist and Fellner, while slightly more reserved in his playing, is a great partner. The sound is excellent digital, though it's worth noting that the cello is recorded fairly closely and the piano is slightly recessed in comparison.
There is pretty broad agreement that Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil's set of Violin sonatas was not recorded particularly well, with the piano significantly recessed in comparison to the violin. But after a few minutes of adjusting, I find the playing to be so beautiful so as to make recording quality a moot point.
The Borodin Trio provide an inspired recording of the the piano trios in warm digital sound. I'm not familiar with the trio discography but I have found this set to be quite satisfying.
The quartets are split between the Sharon Quartet for the early Op. 18 works and the Guarneri digital set from Philips for the middle and late works. I must admit that I am disappointed that the Sharons were thrown in rather than simply offering a complete set of the Guarneri as was done in the previous Brilliant Classics Beethoven box. The Sharon Quartet plays these works competently though quite slowly, and although the sound is quite good (digital) I don't really find anything special in their performances. The experienced Guarneri on the other hand offer an ideal middle-road approach to the middle and late works, dishing up plenty of warm, humane playing without sacrificing the excitement in the faster movements. The consistent wisdom and taste of their interpretive choices, not just within each of these enormously varied quartets, but across the entire set, is remarkable. The Guarneri use a somewhat heavy vibrato and I sense that intonation is at times not as perfect as with some other ensembles out there. However I think the insights presented in their recordings of the quartets are worth it. Again, the sound is full-bodied and warm without being too close, and provides ample separation of the parts to fully appreciate the conversational nature of Beethoven's quartet writing.
Others have mentioned that Brendel's early Vox set from the 1960s seems to get lots of flak from critics (and himself) but lots of love from listeners. Brendel's playing is fairly uninhibited and unpreoccupied with perfection - rather he is more focused on conveying the mood of any given movement. Still, his approach is fairly classical with respect to tempos and rubato. At times I wish he might show some additional flexibility, especially in the late sonatas, but generally his interpretations are satisfying. Sound quality is varied. It can get pretty rough on the late sonatas, where I think even Kempff's mono cycle can sound better. In other places it is more typical for early-ish stereo, though there are frequent balance issues between channels that can distract from the music.
I apologize for not being able to comment on the other items - I have confined my review to those I am most familiar with, and frankly many more pages would be required to do justice to this enormous collection.
For the purposes of full disclosure I had the good fortune of stumbling across this set when it was mispriced at $30, and Amazon honored my order despite the error. The current asking price (around $100) gives me more pause - The symphonies, middle and late quartets and cello sonatas are all unquestionably gems, but the concertos, early quartets and piano sonatas are not really at the top of the heap. The other major items are good, though it wouldn't be hard to find better. Ultimately what makes this box special is the ability to pick out recordings of any of Beethoven's relatively unknown works at your convenience. For that reason I think these miscellanea need to hold some value to you for this box to be worth the asking price.
Finally, it's worth noting that most of the major items in this box can be purchased separately.
on May 31, 2011
Here is a Beethoven collection worth the price of admission. I have lived with The Complete Beethoven Edition of Deutsche Grammaphon for over a decade now. This collection may almost be its equal.
Guilda's Piano Concerto 4 was absolutely spellbinding. I also enjoyed the 5th Symphony with Blornstedt and Straatskapelle Dresden which is a very traditional, solid interpretation that is well recorded. Sir Colin Davis conducts a more than satisfactory Missa Solemnis in D. Of course I still have the rest of the collection to discover, but the initial response is certainly "Bravo Brilliant!" The upgrades over the 2007 set make this super budget edition a worthy companion to go with their Bach, Mozart and Haydn boxes.
on June 7, 2011
I bought this set from Amazon for a price much lower than normally advertised. I didn't know who the musicians were before I purchased. To help current shoppers, I am posting a list based on three quarters of the 85 discs. The list would be twice as long if I listed everybody. By looking at the musicians and dates of the recordings you will know the quality you are buying if you are a long time classical music collector. Three of the big name artists are Alfred Brendal, Arthur Grumiaux and Clara Haskil. Some readers will be thrilled, some will take a pass depending on what you already have in your collection.
(1) Symphonies 1-9.(5 CD) Herbert Blomstedt, Staatskapelle Dresden. 1976 to 1980.
(2) Piano Concerto 1-5.(3 CD) Friedrich Gulda, piano, Wiener Phil. Horst Stein. 1970.
(3) Violin Concerto D & Romances.(1 CD) Henryk Szeryng, Royal Concertgebouw O. Bernard
(4) Triple Concerto. (1 CD) Joseph Kalichstein, piano, Jaime Laredo, violin, Sharon Robinson,
(5) Overtures. (1 CD) Minnesota Orchestra, Stanislav Skrowaczewski. Date?
(6) Wellington's Victory and others (1 CD) ASMF, Sir Neville Marriner, 1989
(7) Music for Wind Ensemble.(2 CD) Otteto Italiano. 1990, 1999
(8) Chamber Music for Flute.(2 CD) Jean-Pierre Rampal, flute, Alain Marion, flute, Paul
Hongue, bassoon, Robert Veyron-Lacrois, piano. Date?
(9) Piano Trios.(4 CD) Borodin Trio: Luba Edlina, piano, Rostislav Dubinsky, violin; Yuli
Turovsky, cello. 1984
(10) Cello Sonatas,(2 CD) Heinrich Schiff, cello; Till Fellner, piano. 1998
(11) Violin Sonatas.(3 CD) Arthur Grumiaux, violin; Clara Haskil, piano. 1956 to 1957
(12) String Trios.(2 CD) Zurich String Trio: Boris Livschitz, violin; Zvi Livschitz, viola, Mikael
Hakhnazarian, cello. 2002
(13) String Quartets,(3 CD) Op. 18, 1-6. Sharon Quartet: Gil Sharon, violin 1; Rodica Ciocoiu,
violin 2; Georg Haag, viola; Alexander Hulshoff, cello. 1998
(14) String Quartets (5 CD the rest of Quartets), Guarneri Quartet: Arnold Steinhardt, violin 1; John Dalley,
violin 2, Michael Tree, viola; David Soyer cello. 1987 to 1992
(15) Music for String Ensembles.(2 CD) Zurich String Quintet; Perez Quartet. 1970, 2004, 2007
(16) Piano Sonatas.(9 CD) Alfred Brendel, piano; 1962 to 1964, 1961 to 1966
(17) Piano Variations; Bagatelles.(5 CD) Alfred Brendel, piano. Between 1961 to 1964
(18) Leonore.(2 CD) Staatskapelle Dresden, Herbert Blomstedt; Don Fernando, Hermann
Christian Polster, bass; Leonore: Edda Moser, soprano. 1976
(19) Fidelio.(2 CD) Wiener Phil. Christoph von Dohnanyi; Leonore: Gabriele Schnaut, soprano
Don Fernando: Tom Krause, baritone. 1991
(20) Egmont.(1 CD) Staatskapelle Berlin, Heinz Bongartz; Elisabeth Breul, soprano; Horst
Schulze, speaker. 1970
(21) Missa Solemnis; (2 CD) London Symphony O. & Chorus, Sir Colin Davis; Anna Tomowa-
Sintow, soprano; Patricia Payne, alto; Robert Tear, tenor. Date?
(22) Songs. (4 CD) Peter Schreier, tenor; Walter Olbertz, piano; and others 1968- 1970
(23) Too many names to list (7 CD) on Canons, Epigrams & Jokes; Irish Songs;
Welsh Songs; Scottish Songs; Folksongs including British Songs
(24) Booklet notes, biography, sung texts (1 CD-ROM)
on July 14, 2011
This is a pretty good collection over all, but with some weak spots. Not as good as the Brilliant Bach or Haydn sets. Certainly a good set for the price.
Symphonies, a superb cycle. Other orchestral music very good.
Piano concerti Good and interesting, but maybe best thought of as your second cycle.
Chamber music. Almost uniformly excellent. Quartets excellent. The weak spot is the violin sonatas. This is a famous and very well payed but MONO set. The cello sonatas are excellent.
Operas. Very good.
Piano music. This is the old Brendel/Vox recording. The sound quality is extremely variable, often quite good, often quite bad even by Vox standards (and I speak as a lifelong Vox customer). If a good recording of the sonatas matters to you -- if you don't have one already -- there are several terrific ones at a good price.
Missa Solemnis. Sounds like mud.
In short an excellent set if you want everything and have the core already. If you are just looking for the core stuff -- symphonies, concerti, quartets, piano sonatas, then you will do better looking for individual bargain sets.
on July 18, 2012
That was a hell of a deal! Beethoven's complete edition on 85 CD's! I received it a few months ago and I haven't even listen to half of it! There's Hours and hours of fun with this box set. This was recommended to me by all the nice people in the classical music forum. Thanx again guys! Beethoven is my personal favourite classical music composer. Over the years I've acquired lots of his work and symphonies at the exception of Piano concertos as i was mostly aiming for the big orchestras and choirs but now I finally have everything!
I was extremely surprised to see everything that Beethoven did in 1 box set. Beethoven might`ve written only 9 orchestral Symphonies but he did wrote a lot of mini-concertos, sonatas, and vocal work for choirs, operas and oratorios as well. How many other artists do you think would've been able to write enough material for 85 albums of music in their career ? Of course classical music is not for everyone but I still think that Beethoven is the one to try before drawing any conclusion. I listened to a few composers in the last years and I can honestly say that no one ever moved me more than Beethoven did. He is definitely worth listening to.
I'm not going to make the list of those 85 CD's cause it would be way too long. All I would say is that all of his major work is there. I think someone told me it might be missing 1or 2 little things that he did, but the essentials are all here. There's even a CD of Cannons, Epigrams and Jokes! The box set might be a little pricy but it's definitely worth it! If you are new to Beethoven's music and wanna give it a try you should go with the box set, because collecting symphonies and sonatas one by one will end up being a lot more expensive. The thing is that once your into it, (and that doesn't take very long), you'll start connecting the dots and find patterns and arrangements that you really like, so you'll end up always looking for more and more....Yes, Beethoven's music can be addictive, it is music that grows extremely fast on you. Some symphonies and Opus will actually reveal their beauty right away and keep you amazed for the whole song! Some things you will recognize right away as a lot of movies, commercials and plays used Beethoven's music in the past and some still do up to this day.....
If you like classical music and Beethoven I would definitely recommend the box set. This music can be played and be used for different reasons as well: relaxing, meditating, background music for meals, visitors, cleaning on rainy days......whatever you want! This is still a very good deal so I hope people will take advantage of it before it becomes too expensive. A must!
on March 6, 2013
Buyers should be aware that there are two different sets of Complete Beethoven Edition from Brilliant Classics. I haven't gone through and thoroughly documented whether the contents of the two are identical, but they have different performers. For instance, one set has the piano sonatas as performed by Friedrich Gulda and the other has them by Alfred Brendel. The box art appears to be identical at least at a quick look. I ordered the current one, which lists the Brendel version, from classicalmusicsuperstore, fulfilled by Amazon, and instead received the Gulda one, which I believe is the older set. I was happy though since I already have the Brendel and didn't have the Gulda, but you may want to make an inquiry with the seller before placing an order if the particular artists are of importance to you. Unfortunately, Amazon as usual combines the reviews for both versions so it's very hard to tell exactly what it is you're buying.
on June 17, 2012
I remember how excited I was when, back in the day, after having managed to scrounge together $35, I went into a local record store and bought a box set of von Karajan's 1962 cycle of all Beethoven symphonies on Deutsche Grammaphon, which happened to be on steeply discounted sale. This was a really, really big deal, something that I proudly showed off to my friends who cared about such a thing. Fast forward to 2011, and I was able to get 85 CDs for just $100. What more could you possibly want as a Beethoven fan? Boom! There is it, the whole shebang at once.
In assembling and releasing these huge box sets at unbelievably low prices, these guys at Brilliant Classics have been doing a very great service. We should be really grateful to them and leave the nit-picking at the door.
on September 21, 2011
85 CD's with every work of Beethoven.
Some of them performed by well known musicians, some of them performed by people I had never heard of... But those are also surprisingly good!
on August 1, 2012
Whoever had the idea - should have had it many years ago! But at last - I have all of Beethoven's works and my heart can be at peace. I still play my other albums too, as there is a great deal of enjoyment in listening to the various performances. The performances recorded in this complete set are, overall, quite good. When I find something I had not been familiar with previously, it is fun to find another recording of it and then compare those also.
Beethoven was a musical titan indeed. His major works are so powerful, so moving! I always have this feeling that I want to expose all the world to his music, because somehow it can only bring about some marvelous and miraculous improvement in our universe (smile).
Suggestion - buy this for your children or grandchildren and open to them the very best of the classical music world! (I myself am very grateful that I received the set for Christmas.)