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Beethoven Symphony Cycles in Digital Surround

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ubertrout

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I recently commented that out of about 13,000 high-res digital discs, about at least 8,000 are classical. It's not surprising that the Beethoven symphonies - the apex of the repertoire - are disproportionately represented, but it's kind of fascinating just how many such cycles we've had. Pentatone is inaugurating another cycle, this one a remastered quad set led by Rafael Kubelik and assorted other orchestras from the early 1970s. Also note that this list doesn't include stereo-only releases, like the Karajan 1963 cycle (on SACD or BD). Let me know if I've missed anything, sets are listed by conductor.

  • Jaap van Zweden (Philips SACD) - early DSD recording and a bit of a demonstration of the format's potential - considered a bit of a dark horse among those who have heard it
  • Claudio Abbado (Deutsche Grammophon DVD-Audio) - considered a failure by many including the conductor, who would prefer live recordings he made for video to these.
  • Daniel Barenboim (Teldec DVD-Audio) - Probably the best non-SACD option
  • Frans Bruggen (Glossa SACD) - period performances, divides opinions sharply
  • Bernard Haitink (LSO Live SACD) - probably the go-to, and he throws in the Triple Concerto
  • Jan Willem de Vriend (Challenge SACD) - a recent competitor for the top spot
  • Ruben Gazarian (Bayer SACD) - 4.0 sound, lacking spark
  • Philippe Herreweghe (Pentatone SACD) - Originally started by the Talent label, historically informed performances
  • Kurt Masur (Pentatone SACD) - quad recording by Philips from the 1970s - extremely solid and extremely German
  • Paavo Jarvi (RCA SACD) - a strong contender from a smaller orchestra
  • Herbert Kegel (Capriccio SACD / Crystal BD-Audio) - Strongly suspect the audio is an artificial upmix.
  • Osmo Vänskä (BIS SACD) - another contender for the top spot, with some dissenters. Probably the most reasonably priced.
  • Wojciech Rajski (TACET BD-Audio) - if you want active use of the surrounds, this is your go-to
  • Simon Rattle (Berlin Philharmonic BD-Audio) - luxury boxset with video and more. Mixed views on the performances
  • Barry Wordsworth and others (Membran SACD) - artificial upmix of recordings made in the 1990s by Tring - this used to be really cheap for 7 SACDs (I paid $17) and was a fair deal at that price.
  • Stefan Blunier (MDG SACD) - 2+2+2 sound, never compiled into one set

In addition to these, there are a number of conductors who have recorded a substantial part of a cycle on SACD, and may complete it, including Fischer, Antonini, de Billy, and more.

Do people have any favorites? One could probably create a similar list for the Shostakovich, Mahler, or Bruckner symphonies, which are all also overrepresented on SACD.
 

bmoura

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I haven't analyzed the releases, but the perception in the music industry is that the Mahler symphonies are very prevalent in the SACD catalog of releases.
So much so that one music exec once told me that he considers SACD to be "the Mahler format" (!)
 

humprof

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Indeed--and today, BIS inaugurated another Mahler cycle...with Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra. (5.0 96/24 FLAC on sale for USD 11.32. Now that's what a high-res digital download should cost!)

I haven't analyzed the releases, but the perception in the music industry is that the Mahler symphonies are very prevalent in the SACD catalog of releases.
So much so that one music exec once told me that he considers SACD to be "the Mahler format" (!)
 

ubertrout

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I haven't analyzed the releases, but the perception in the music industry is that the Mahler symphonies are very prevalent in the SACD catalog of releases.
So much so that one music exec once told me that he considers SACD to be "the Mahler format" (!)
I don't think he's fully wrong, but it's not completely arbitrary...I think SACD multichannel is particularly well-suited to Mahler's music, with brutal fortes and ethereal silences. It gets you so much closer to the concert hall experience. For Beethoven (especially the first 8 symphonies), a good stereo CD gets you pretty close to where you want to be. And of course, CD is quite literally the "Beethoven format."

Edit to add: What surprises me is how many Shostakovich cycles we're getting. I enjoy his work but I didn't think he's as popular as Beethoven or Mahler - and a cycle of his 15 symphonies is a major commitment.
 

ubertrout

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Indeed--and today, BIS inaugurated another Mahler cycle...with Osmo Vanska and the Minnesota Orchestra. (5.0 96/24 FLAC on sale for USD 11.32. Now that's what a high-res digital download should cost!)
I'm tempted - I've really enjoyed other BIS recordings with those forces and buy from eClassical semi-frequently. But between SACDs of Bernstein, MTT, Gergiev, Zinman, and Nott, not to mention Fischer's near-cycle and Abbado's cycle on BD-V...it's hard to see the need.
 

bmoura

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I'm tempted - I've really enjoyed other BIS recordings with those forces and buy from eClassical semi-frequently. But between SACDs of Bernstein, MTT, Gergiev, Zinman, and Nott, not to mention Fischer's near-cycle and Abbado's cycle on BD-V...it's hard to see the need.
The Fischer cycle on Channel Classics is very well done.
In fact, last time I looked his latest (Mahler Symphony No. 3) was topping the NativeDSD Music sales charts.

Also enjoyed the MTT Mahler recordings.
I was able to sit in on one of the live concert/recording sessions with Tilson-Thomas & the SF Symphony Orchestra which included the "patch session" at the end of the recordings.
That was arguably more exciting than the performance of the symphony itself. :)
 

warp2600

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  • Wojciech Rajski (TACET BD-Audio) - if you want active use of the surrounds, this is your go-to
Hi,

I wanted to create a thread for my question but I think it would be overkill.

I got the Polish Chamber Philharmonic Orchestra SACD of the Beethoven 5th and 6th on TACET and I really like it especially the 6th.
Now, what spoils my listening pleasure is the annoying distortion sounds in the first movement of the 5th coming from the right rear speaker. It may be that the piece was recorded hot and it clips, I don't know, because I am not sure what clipping sounds like.
I thought that my speaker was to blame so I swapped the left and right rear speakers but the sound persists in the right rear channel. It is not my speaker.
I have a stereo system too, which is totally separate from the multi-channel system (different speakers, amp and source) and when I popped the CD into the stereo player, the same unwanted sounds are there in the right channel. It is there right in the first 4 notes (dubbed "fate knocking at your door") and once or twice more later in the movement. So it not my amp to blame.
Those who have this SACD, do you experience the same?
I have the same annoying sounds on my Linn SACD of Beethoven's piano concertos No. 3-4-5 in a couple of places coming from the front left channel in the No. 3.
 
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