top of page

EXPLORING MUSIC: Volume I of the Complete Nine Symphonies by LUDWIG VAN BEETHOVEN

The MHS Review 377 VOL. 10, NO. 17 • 1986

click on the cover to return to the table of contents

David M. Greene

A complete recording of the Beethoven symphonies may not actually appear every month, but one sometimes feels this to be the case.


not yet released.png

A complete recording of the Beethoven symphonies may not actually appear every month, but one sometimes feels this to be the case. Within living memory (if what's left of mine qualifies on either count) it was by no means always so. A far as I can make out, the first complete set of Beethovens, and the only one before LP, was the once conducted by Felix Weingarten with various orchestras, brought out here in the 1930s on the Columbia label.

Apparently the first on American LP was the Scherchen set on Westminster, followed, I think, by RCA's Toscanini memorial. These remained the sole choices until 1962 when Columbia and Everest rushed to fill the stereo gap with Bruno Walter and Josef Krips. Angel's Klemperer set appeared about a year later and London's Ansermet in 1964. (I am using the July Schwann of each year as reference, so my dates may not be exact.) Karajan's first effort appeared that same year; 1965 brought Szell, 1967 Ormandy and Steinberg, 1969 Konwitschny. Somewhere around this time Paul Kletzki's recording entered the MHS catalog.

In 1970 we had Bernstein's New York Philharmonic compendium, Jochum with the Concertgebouw, and Leinsdorf with the Boston Symphony. There was a version by Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt in 1971, and a "bargain" by Cluytens in 1972. Karl Bohm's interpretation appeared for a few months in 1973 and then vanished. There ensued a gap of nearly three years, and then in rapid succession came Kubelik (a sort of "stunt" with nine different orchestras), Kempe, and the recording under consideration here. Since then there have been further representations by Haitink, lwaki, Karajan, Jochum (LSO), Bern­stein (VPO), Maazel, Sanderling, Suitner, and Bohm (the 1973 version of a later one?), and gosh knows who else by the time you see this.

The Chicago Symphony was founded in 1891 with the legendary Theodore Thomas as its conductor. He was succeeded in 1905 by Frederick Stock, who remained at its helm until he died 37 years later. After brief intendencies by Defauw, Rodzinski, and Kubelik, the orchestra saw a decade of glory under Fritz Reiner. He was followed by the unpopular Jean Martinon, who resigned in 1968.

Georg Solti, who had earlier been music director of the Lyric Opera has reigned supreme since 1969. There are those refined souls who find Solti a crowd-pleaser, but this set of records has enjoyed the highest acclaim. The Penguin Guide calls it "epic;' and the recording "characteristically brilliant." It should be noted that Solti takes all the repeats.

bottom of page