Ludwig van Beethoven - Symphony Recordings

Recording Recommendations

In terms of recording recommendations, I bow to the vastly superior knowledge of someone who has a vastly larger collection -and knowledge of its contents- than my own: the music critic, David Hurwitz. He has an excellent video channel on Youtube that is well worth checking out: even if you don't always agree with him, there are bound to be things of interest and lasting value to be found there. Unfortunately, his videos are not well indexed, so finding any particular piece of subject matter can be tricky. He also doesn't break his recommendations out into text form: so you kind of have to sit through 30 minutes of video to find out the pertinent bits of information! For those who don't have that time to spare, I've extracted the nuggets for you from the appropriate videos.

David Hurwitz tends to approach things from at least three different angles: which is the best single collection of something; which is the ideal collection of something; and which are the best individual performances that go to make up a collection.

Thus, he will have a recommendation for a 'best symphony cycle': the one product, sold and marketed as a single item, which contains all the symphonies under discussion. That collection might have an occasional weak spot, but overall is the best of what's available as a single-item buy.

Then he will put together an 'ideal cycle', where he picks and chooses whatever recordings are available singly or as part of collections, to create a complete collection (of symphonies, say) which have no weak links. No one recording might be the best of a particular symphony, say. But taken together, the 'ideal cycle' represents excellent performances that have a consistency about them without duplicating conductors or (where possible) orchestras. It's the non-duplication of conductors and orchestras that means, potentially, he'll recommend a particular recording as part of the ideal cycle which isn't subsequently declared to be the best of the recordings available of that particular symphony. If Smith has an excellent Symphony No. 1 and No. 3, he might use him as the 'ideal' Symphony No. 1 -which rules out Smith being used as the ideal for Symphony No. 3. Yet Smith's Symphony No. 3 might still be the best individual recording available of that symphony.

So then, finally, he analyses each symphony making up a cycle as an individual work and recommends what he thinks is the best individual recording of that particular symphony.

I've extracted all the relevant information here and then linked to what was available for purchase from either Prestoclassical or UK Amazon, where possible (Presto is always my first choice; Amazon if Presto doesn't have the recording available). These are not affiliate links: I get nothing by you clicking on them. They're just provided in an attempt to be useful!

For Beethoven's symphonies, David Hurwitz recommendations were:

Best Complete Symphony Cycle

Components of an Idealised Cycle

Best Individual Recordings of a Symphony