Beethoven's symphonies: a buyer's guide

Beethoven's symphonies broke the mould - but if you're looking to own a set of recordings, which are the best albums to buy? Click on the album covers to listen and download.

barenboim beethoven album coverStaatskapelle Berlin/Barenboim
This fine 1999 set of Beethoven’s symphonies offers a near-ideal balance of expressive warmth, moment-to-moment imagination and wide musical vision - and all at a bargain price.
Warner Classics 2564 61890-2 

Karajan Beethoven album coverBerlin Phil/Karajan
Of Karajan’s four Beethoven cycles, this 1963 set remains the most highly rated, and with reason. Lustrous Berlin Phil playing, plus Karajan’s visionary grandeur.
Deutsche Grammophon 474 6002 

Nikolaus Harnoncourt beethoven album coverChamber Orchestra of Europe/Harnoncourt
A definitive period-style set, although with modern instruments. You’ll either love it or hate it. But you’ll hear things that you hadn’t before. Teldec Classics 0927 49768-2 

Rattle Beethoven album coverVienna Phil/Rattle
Rattle’s tight-reined approach here comes together with the Vienna Phil’s unique grace and glow. These performances are always live-wire and sometimes very much more than that.
EMI Classics 375 8122 

Norrington beethoven album coverLondon Classical Players/Norrington
Played on period instruments, this set has scorchingly fast tempi and brilliant rhythmic clarity. If you’re new to Beethoven, best not listen to this set first.
Virgin Classics 561 9432