Symphonien Nr. 5 &7. Vienna Philharmonic, Carlos Kleiber conducting. DG 447-400-2
Long regarded as the quintessential interpretation of the most popular and best-loved symphony ever written, this performance of the Fifth has everything: passion, precision, drama, lyric beauty, and a coiled fury in the first movement that sets your pulse racing from the very first note. Carlos Kleiber has made very few recordings in his distinguished career, but almost all are special. If you own no other copy of this symphony, this is the one to get. It comes with an exceptional performance of the Seventh--not quite as gripping as the Fifth, but definitely one of the great ones. There is classical music, and there are classic recordings of classical music. This one's a classic. -- David Hurwitz
Symphony No. 3 "Eroica". New York Philharmonic, Leonard Bernstein conducting. Sony SMK 60692
This is the one Beethoven Symphony that Leonard Bernstein owned, and with good reason. Bernstein was more highly regarded with his recordings of Mahler, Copland, and other later composers. Most of his Beethoven was considered so-so, but this recording really shines. Also included on this CD is a discussion of this work, "How a Great Symphony Was Written."
The 9 Symphonies & Overtures. Cleveland Orchestra, George Szell conducting. Sony SBK 48396
By far, my favorite overall symphony cycle is this one recorded during the late '50s and '60s by George Szell and the Cleveland Orchestra. It contains the first and best Ninth (SBK 46533) that I have ever heard. My other favorites in this cycle are the Third (SBK 46328) and the Sixth (SBK 46532).
Symphonies Nos. 7 & 8. Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti conducting. London 425-525-2
Missa Solemnis - Mass in C. Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Sir Georg Solti conducting, with Gwynne Howell, Yvonne Minton, Lucia Popp, and Mallory Walker. (Missa) Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, Ricardo Chailly conducting, with Tom Krause, Margarita Zimmermann, Bruno Beccari, and Sandra Dunn. (Mass) London 455-014-2
I include these two for the simple fact that Sir Georg Solti conducts both recordings. Although I haven't quite found all of his Beethoven impressive (His Ninth, for example, was too slow for me.), I think his conducting style is best suited to works such as the Seventh Symphony. I also decided to include the Missa Solemnis because it was the work which Beethoven himself considered to be his finest work.
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