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Complete Symphonies Box set
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'Herbert Blomstedt's Beethoven cycle with the Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the great ones, as much for the magnificent playing of this finest of all German orchestras as for Blomstedt's effortlessly musical interpretations.' 10/10 for artistic quality and sound quality. David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com
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The Staatskapelle Dresden is one of the world's oldest (founded in 1548) and finest symphony orchestras. It was certainly in prime condition from 1975 to 1980 when this Beethoven cycle was recorded. The recordings were made in the acoustically excellent Lukaskirche in Dresden. So the sound is magnificent. Blomstedt's interpretations, however, are not very exciting. The tempos are slow, and tend to sound sluggish when more dynamism is called for in the fast movements. It is in the slow movements that Blomstedt and this fine orchestra shine. The Adagio of the Third, for instance, is very moving in stark contrast to the more famous Karajan/BPO 1962 recording. In the Ninth, the Molto vivace is clumsy where it should be dazzling and light on its feet, but the Adagio is one of the finest I've heard, just incomparably lovely.
For Beethoven in a similar traditional vein I prefer Gunter Wand's cycle with the NDR Hamburg orchestra, recorded in the late 1980s. Perhaps the best, though, is the more recent cycle from Daniel Barenboim and the Staatskapelle Berlin.
This is the latest in a series of Brilliant reissues of this cycle. It was originally released by Berlin Classics, and its most recent box, in the Brilliant style with the discs in cardboard sleeves, is also still available, with a booklet including liner notes.
#1. Played well without being romanticized with retards, etc. More like something from the Classical Period as it should be. I've heard better Firsts.
#3. The Eroica is not particularly special. In fact, the orchestra sounds like a smaller ensemble but perhaps it was scaled down to a size more appropriate to Beethoven's time. An alternative explanation could be layed at the feet of the recording engineer. At any rate, it doesn't sound very heroic or intense. The 2nd Movement and the Poco andante of the 4th Movement are lovingly and beautifully played. The 3rd Movement Scherzo and Trio are played with less urgency than commonly heard. Oddly, the 4th Movement sounds a little more like a full-sized orchestra.
#2 & #4. Full orchestra sound arrives with the 2nd Symphony. Very well played in a more Classical style as still appropriate. The 1st Movement gives a glimpse of that melodic and rhythmic motif later to be heard in the Ninth Symphony. I suspect that since these two symphonies were recorded later than the 1st and the 3rd, they benefitted from the engineer's learning curve. The Second's Larghetto is sweetly played. The final movement is perfect in every way aside from the mild congestion on peaks that occurs and is so common in recordings from the days before DDD. Beethovens transition towards romanticism is heard clearly in the 4th Symphony. It's 1st movement is exemplary and gets a strong urgent reading followed by a characteristically sweet Adagio. The 3rd and 4th Movement tempi are conventionally quick. The sound and precision of the orchestra are impressive.
#5. Somewhat less intensity and urgency in the 1st Movement (and 3rd and 4th) compared to Carlos Kleiber (but who ISN'T less intense and urgent than Kleiber). Still a beautiful reading. Once again Blomstedt gives evidence of heart in the slow movement which is lovingly played and at times majestically when appropriate. Just gorgeous! The 3rd Movement like the 2nd is one of the best I've heard - virile, majestic. The 4th Movement explodes onto the scene with a glorious sound wall that totally befits Beethoven's 5th.
#6. With Blomstedt already giving proof of his ability to impressively convey Beethoven's lyrical moments so well, the success of the 6th Symphony comes as no surprise. This was the first Beethoven LP that I bought as a junior high school student. I loved it then as I do now. This may be Blomstedt's greatest achievement in the series. Strings just shine. Beethoven loved his walks in nature. So does Blomstedt. The approaching storm hints ominously before it arrives with power (and claps and rumbling of thunder), then gives way to the sweet aftermath so well depicted by the woodwinds and flutes followed by strings and finally horns. You easily get the sense that Blomstedt enjoyed the 6th Symphony!
#7. Beethoven musical depth was clearly evident by the writing of his 7th Symphony. This is a magnificent reading, full of feeling and power. It is difficult not to be moved by Blomstedt here. Try holding it back when the explosion of horns occurs at the 5 minute mark. The 4th Movement erupts in a blaze of glory. What it must have been like for LVB to have that music in his head. There is some clicking artifact in the recording in the 4th Movement. It wasn't my speakers as it occurred when I played it back at low volume. I think this was recorded or remastered at too high a volume. The tympani are not clearly defined nor as prominent as they should be.
#8. Beethoven was less dramatic in his even-numbered symphonies. In the Allegretto scherzando the Staatskapelle Dresden shows off its ability to play fleet-footedly. The 4th Movement, not one of my favorites (and I'll bet not one of Beethoven's as well) concludes... finally.
#9. Beethoven's final symphony begins with a long crescendo leading up to an appropriately powerful announcement of its importance. The 2nd Movement is known to all thanks to the team of Huntley and Brinkley. The tympani are perfectly recorded unlike in the 7th Symphony's 4th Movement. Blomstedt again shines in the sublime 3rd Movement. The complex final movement includes the closest, most natural recording of basses I have ever heard - almost too raspy. Soloists are excellent and the chorus, so vital to the movement, are superbly recorded with perfect balance between the chorus, soloists, and orchestra. This is unquestionably one of the finest 4th Movements I have heard in five decades of listening to the Ninth, and it alone is reason enough to purchase the cycle.
In general, Blomstedt's tempi in the faster movements are a bit slower that those taken by most other conductors but give the listener the opportunity to savor the beauty more than most interpreters allow. The sound is superb except perhaps in the earlier-recorded First Symphony. There is slight congestion in some particularly loud peaks but otherwise, the sonics are extraordinary for the age of these recordings. Blomstedt's readings are difficult to beat and the sonics belie the cycle's age. Highly Recommended!