Beethoven Symphony recommendations

For years I’ve been quite happy with Karajan’s early 80s Beethoven cycle for numbers 3, 5 and 7. They were the first versions I owned and I simply became so accustomed to them that every other version has always sounded a bit odd to me. I’m well aware of the criticisms they’ve had for idiosyncratic recording quality, miking technique and the Philharmonie’s rather odd acoustic, but there it is.

Now, though, I probably owe it to myself to try some others. The last time I tried this was when HIPP was riding high and I didn’t like the astringent sound nor the unnecessarily fast tempos. I suspect the world has now moved on, so recommendations please for:

  • Modern recordings of Beethoven 3, 5 and/or 7…
  • …with interpretations likely to appeal to someone who likes early-80s Karajan…
  • …probably not HIPP, thank you, unless you can assure me it isn’t going to be the aural equivalent of birching oneself with nettles ‘because it’s character-building’…
  • …and fabulous recording quality, of course

If I can listen to bits of what you recommend online, so much the better.



Hi Mark,

Very interested in this topic and theme as I too have some recordings of well loved repertoire which I would want to replace with something better recorded and performed if it is ‘out there’.

For instance, it took me a long while and a lot of searching before I discovered my now preferred version of Debussy solo piano works by Gordon Fergus-Thompson.

But first, WTF is HIPP?


I love the Karajan, my favourite recordings are Harnoncourt with the COE. His tempi are faster than the Karajan, but I think he really digs into the heart of the music, his 7th is one of my Desert Island Discs. I’ve had a look and the 7th is on YouTube.

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I visited the LSO last year with Beethoven 7 / Rattle. The Barbican Hall is quite dry sounding and therefore I really liked the rythms being so clear and fast in this symphony. I don’t know if there are LSO / Rattle / Barbican recordings but I check it out today and get back.

I like the Philips disks with Kleiber. Any Beethoven. It is up to today the only time I have seen the soul of Beethoven. I posted it on this forum before: Beethoven and I are no friends.

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HIPP = Historically Informed Period Performance.

i.e. playing the music on authentic instruments with authentic technique and usually sounding like a rusty squeezebox. IMHO, of course.

I do think there’s a happy medium though - I love Mackerras’s Beethoven 9 from 1991, where he took all of Beethoven’s metronome markings at face value and produced something quite thrilling.

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I don’t really know the Karjan recordings well but I keep going back to Chailly’s Beethoven cycle with Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. Maybe worth a try? Also, I would be interested in how others like the Leipzig recording. :slightly_smiling_face:




I too enjoy the Karajan, but in my case the earlier cycle.

In addition to the earlier recommendations:

If you want to hear the Symphonies taken to there most …deliberate, then Klemperer.

On Qobuz I have been enjoying the Reference Recordings Pittsburgh Orchestra 24/192, rather dynamic.

I have yet to listen to the recordings of the Compagnia de Punto of the first three symphonies. This is a small 12 piece ensemble and was recommended on HiFi News.

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+1 for the Kleiber recordings of the 5th and 7th. For me they remain the gold standard for those 2 symphonies. I like Simon Rattle’s interpretations with various orchestras

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This is such a good question. I have Karajan on LP, but have no deck. When I went digital I choose the Gardiner recordings. Yes it’s HIPP but to my ears the recordings are engaging.
But I would like to listen to those iconoclastic Karajan recordings again.


Vanska on BIS records.
Fantastic performances.
Fantastic sound.

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If you want Karajan, his 1962/3 cycle is best - track down the SACD’s if you can.

Thanks for the recommends so far - I’m grateful for everything, even the ones that I haven’t enjoyed. A few thoughts in response:

  • For better or worse, I am definitely interested only in modern recordings just now, so the Solti and earlier Karajan suggestions are not what I’m after, wonderful though they might be. Ditto Kleiber, unless he did a cycle later in life that I haven’t found yet.

Thanks to Spotify, I’ve had at least a brief listen to everything else suggested above:

  • Gardiner is reliably good as always, and the band don’t sound quite as odd as Norrington’s lot, for example, so well done @Camphuw for finding some HIPPy stuff I can just about cope with!
  • Harnoncourt’s 7th was an interesting experience. The delicate beauty of the second movement was absolutely spot-on (probably the best I’ve ever heard), but I found the balance in the fourth movement dreadful - I couldn’t hear the opening fast string figures over the racket the winds were making. I’m glad you like it, @Eoink, but it’s not for me.
  • Joshua Bell was a new name to me and his Allegretto is also really good. I found his 7th Finale pretty good too. Shame he doesn’t seem to have recorded 3 or 5 yet - unless someone can point me in the right direction.
  • Rattle with the VPO was sounding good in 3 and 5 (cracking acoustics!) but the tempos in the 7th were a bit leisurely for me in places. I think a need a feeling of frenzy under the control.

Difficult to please, aren’t I? Keep them coming…



You could argue all day about the “best” set of Beethoven symphonies. In my book they fall into two catagories. The BIG BAND and PERIOD INSTRUMENTS. BB versions are Karajan, Klemperer, Carl Bohm and quite few others in the 1950/60s era. I feel that’s old fashioned now.
I could listen to either. In this music there is no “right” version.
For PI try John Elloit Gardiner or Roger Norrington. Squeeky they may be to some but its probably more like the sound as it was in Beethoven’s day. I find these interpretations really refreshing in a newly poured gin and tonic way. Each to his own. For a combination of the two, Ricado Chailly/Dresden are a good choice.
The classic 5/7 are Carlos Klieber, always a near top of the tree choice.
On last Saturday’s Record Record BBC Radio 3 we heard a comparison of the best choice for the first symphony. Catch up. The review clearly states better than I can the pros and cons of interpetations.
You can go to the other extreme and get all nine symphonies on the piano, possibly for four hands. Can’t remember which. I could take some of the early symphonies on the piano but the ninth might just loose something. All 70 odd minutes. Liszt arrsnged them for piano from memory.
The next composer to arguably change in a radical way how symphonies were written was Gustav Mahler, who went from the romantic era (Tchaikovsky?) to the world of Schoenberg in 9 and a half symphonies. I might start a thread on Mahler Another person with endless musical possibilities of interpretation.


If you want modern performances with a traditional orchestra, I strongly recommend the Mariss Jansons cycle with the Bavarian RSO on BR Klassik. His tempi aren’t too extreme and I think they are all live performances, in good recordings. Jansons was often able to make the listener (me at least!) hear other details in otherwise familiar works.
I also recommend the Osmo Vanska Minnesota SO on BIS, superb recordings and excellently played, though his interpretations do take account of HIPP.
An outstanding modern performance of no.3 is from Manfred Honeck with his Pittsburgh orchestra.
I echo the other posters in recommending 5&7 from Carlos Kleiber with the Vienna PO - though not very modern recordings, they still sound good. Sadly Kleiber never made a complete cycle, but he did also record 4 and 6.
Rattle’s complete cycle with the Berlin Phil on their own label is highly recommendable too.
Almost an embarrassment of riches as there are many other noteworthy options. Good luck, and do let us know what you finally choose.

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Always a tough decision – here are a few full-set choices I recommend:

Barenboim/Berlin Staatskapelle
Zinman/Tonhalle Orchestra Zurich
Chailly/Leipzig Gewandhaus
Jansons/Bavarian Radio Orchestra
Harnoncourt/Chamber Orchestra Europe

Can’t live without various individual recordings by Furtwangler, Walter, Kleiber, Gardiner, Celibidache, Bernstein, & Toscanini…

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Agreed- Kleiber’s Beethoven 5&7 are landmarks>


There’s a number of great choices already. My personal favourites are Kleiber, Klemperer, Harnoncourt, Furtwängler Leibowitz.

Unless I missed it, I also love the period version by Jos van Immerseel / Anima Eterna which is worth a listen.



Thanks for the summary, Douglas. I’ve been doing a bit of reading around since my initial post, and I think what I’m after is one of the newer recordings that manages to bridge the gap between your BB and PI categories, i.e. that they use modern instruments but take tempos, phrasing and so on from the PI movement.

The Mackerras 9 I mentioned used Jonathan del Mar’s then-new Breitkopf edition and, for me, bridges the gap ideally. Del Mar’s editions were all published by 2000, so it seems I need to look at post-2000 recordings that will be likely to have used it.

Based on that, I’m working my way through Rattle, Chailly, Jansons, Haitink, Mackerras and no doubt some others. What I’m finding is that they’re all good until one thing, usually in the 7th, makes me recoil and bin it. For example, I was happily working my way through Vanska’s cycle until I heard his 7th’s Allegretto and the way he clod-hops on the first beat of every bar. There’s no justification in the score for that, and it ruins it for me. Haitink was high on my list until I heard the over-dotted rhythm in the violins about a minute into the 7th’s Finale. The search continues.

All that said, though, Presto Classical are currently knocking out the entire Chailly cycle for under £12(!) which is a powerful - if not artistic - argument in its favour.

One more thing that’s occurred to me is how great it is to be spoilt for listening choice. Thanks to Spotify, I’ve whizzed through loads of versions today. Imagine if I’d tried to do that 20 years ago…


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