The 25 Essential Beethoven Recordings: Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7

Friday, November 09, 2012

Carlos Kleiber had one of the most confounding, frustrating and intermittently spectacular classical-music careers of the 20th century. He was unconcerned with career matters and, despite holding several prominent posts in Europe during the 1960s and 70s, he could have had a bigger presence. Indeed, some believe he could have been the greatest conductor of our time if he had simply conducted more.

Known for his mercurial personality, he had a penchant for walking out of rehearsals and canceling performances if things weren't going well. He spent many of his last years napping in a hammock and gazing out at the countryside at his home in Slovenia.

That being said, Kleiber had a seemingly innate musicianship and a profound knowledge of the scores he conducted. That much can be heard in his famous recordings of Beethoven’s Fifth and Seventh Symphonies with the Vienna Philharmonic, made in the mid-1970s. Even through all the repeats, he projects a constant sense of forward momentum in the Fifth Symphony. The opening motive has just the right weight and balance. For these reasons and others, it's pretty much the consensus view that these are the greatest modern recordings of the two symphonies (especially the Fifth).

What do you think of our choices? Tell us about your favorite versions in the comments below.

Symphonies Nos. 5 & 7
Vienna Philharmonic

Carlos Kleiber
Deutsche Grammophon
Available at


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Comments [12]

right innit from Merry old ing ger land

All this kleiber nonsense is simply just repeating what you have been told until you believe it is true yourself. Kleiber's 7th was far better than his grim mechanical superficial 5th. Furtwangler (Tahra) is far better and so is Haitink (Philips). Kleiber is a marketing myth, as Bernstein and Karajan were for some. GET OUT MORE.

Jun. 23 2015 05:11 AM
RuralDigital from South Central Nebraska

I am always partial to Guido Cantelli's recording of the 7th. Wonderfully lyrical.

Oct. 04 2014 01:47 AM
Amit Bhan

I listened to this recording since I was a kid in the 70s. My dad would play this all the time.
I listened to other versions of the 5th but this version commanded you to listen. Fate knocking on the door,
pushing the tempo and Kleiber's grasp of the probable intent of Beethoven , IMHO are no where better
represented than in these recordings. If Beethoven were alive, he would have had Kleiber conduct these symphonies.

Sep. 02 2013 08:26 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard agner

GREAT recorded performances of Beethoven's symphonies are so numerous and my own, from childhhod collecting days, include performances by maestri Bruno Walter, Felix Weingarten, Arturo Toscanini, Sir Thomas Beecham, George Szell, Leonard Bernstein, Sir Georg Solti, Eugene Ormandy and Herbert von Karajan. ART, pictorial, is akin to the aural manifestations. Composers have always been painting in sound, sensing a visual companion to their creations. We, I am an opera composer, often identify the pitches and harmonies with colors. Beethoven's symphonies, opera, Missa Solemnis, concertos, sonatas, string quartets, overtures, chamber music generally ,and song literature, is so pervasive and his world consciousness and basic humanity construct an icon unparalleled to and past his own era. At Juilliard, I studied his oeuvre and , in those days, all singers learned the concert rep of Beethoven , Schubert , Schumann, Wolf and Grieg, whether they would be opera singers or concert singers . So much of our treasured masterpieces, vocal and instrumental, are unknown quantities to most Americans. THANK YOU WQXR FOR CELEBRATING BEETHOVEN !!! Beethoven's symphonies are the ABCs of most essential single composers' oeuvre of the symphonic literature. Who ever having heard the Waldstein well performed can ever forget its beauty and nuanced scope of emotions. Wagner and his contemporaries and their successors all recognized the epic achievement of Beethoven. I am a romantischer Wagnerian heldentenor and director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute at 418A Main Street, Boonton, NJ . I have sung fo ur solo concerts in the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall. As part of my Ten Language Solo Debut concert at the Isaac Stern Auditorium of Carnegie Hall, I sang the Gott ! welch dunkel hier ! aria of Fidelio. it can be heard from the live performance on my three websites, one of which is It received rave critical notices in newspapers and magazines. The Beethoven violin concerto is celebrated by its ardent interpreters Heifetz, Menuhin, Perlman, Elman, Oistrahk and Paganini. Great Beethoven interpreters at the piano include Horowitz, Rubinstein, Brailovsky, Gieseking and Paderevski. Among the greatest singers famous for their Beethoven performances in opera and concert my voice teachers Kipnis, Schorr, Singher, Brownlee, and Matzenauer. Other famous singers with extensive Beethoven "rep" were Flagstad, Roswaenge, Schlusnus, Hoffmann, Hines, Maison, Greindl, Vickers, and Weber.

Nov. 16 2012 07:57 PM
Steve Smith from Charlotte NC

These clearly are the best recordings ever made of these works.

I point out that the transition from exposition to development in the Seventh Symphony makes no sense without the repeat. Conductors who skip the repeat simply have no clue.

Nov. 15 2012 08:36 PM
Constantine from New York

The best performance I ever heard of the Seventh was a live one I heard on WQXR one or two years ago. The conductor was an Asian-American woman whose name escapes me, unfortunately. All the repeats were observed and the last movement absolutely flew. I wish I could give better information. I hope this performance is or will become easily available.

Nov. 13 2012 03:20 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

Beethoven recordings by Toscanini, Beecham, Walter and Bernstein, each with their own distinctive approach are major contributions to recorded history. i have been collecting them and recording broadcasts from tv and radio which have more recent maestri withj their own styles. Like Shakespeare, even a "bad" performance cannot ruin the experience. iu am the director of the ichard Wagner Music Drama nstitute at 418A Main Street in Boonton, NJ, where i teach composing, conducting and cpach actors for the Shakespeare plays and singers for the Wagner operas.

Nov. 10 2012 03:55 PM
Charles OConnell from Middletown, New Jersey

There is a lot to be said for Gunter Wand's 5th and for Leonard Bernstein's 5th and 7th. I find Kleiber's 5th kind of grim, Wand's is happy. Also a joyous 5th: Roger Norrington's EMI recording.

Nov. 10 2012 11:05 AM
Charles Barber from Vancouver

A case can certainly be made that Carlos Kleiber was the greatest conductor of his generation.

His score knowledge was astounding. His semaphore was unique, and his players invariably responded like novae, bursting with energy and light. And his repertoire was much larger than is commonly known.

Beyond all, Kleiber had (I believe) the gift of line and proportion and phrase. This is what almost everyone first notices about a Kleiber performance. Unusual as it may seem, it was always, somehow, perfectly correct and exactly what one had always been hoping for.

Carlos Kleiber was, perhaps essentially, an Ecstatic. There are reasons his favorite poet was Emily Dickinson.

I knew and studied with him for 15 years. (Yes, he did not live in a cave. He knew people, and came out to play.) There was no one in music like this man, at least in the modern era. For very good reason, his Fifth seems to reach the top of almost everyone's list.

Regarding the Seventh, I prefer the DVD he made with the Concertgebouw. If one can imagine, it is even more arresting and quicksilver.

Nov. 09 2012 08:25 PM
George Jochnowitz from New York

In 1951 or 1952, I was listening to a program called "The Masterwork Hour" on WNYC. I heard a performance of Beethoven's 7th conducted by Hermann Scherchen. I was overwhelmed by its beauty. I bought the LP record and listened to it again and again. It remains my favorite performance of the work.

Nov. 09 2012 02:12 PM
Andrew from Lower Merion, PA

Yes, agreed. The repeats are an essential part of all music from Beethoven's time period (and before and after, as well). It is too bad that there was a period when it was mainstream to ignore repeats, even among great conductors. The Sonata first-movement form is an entirely different creature without the repeats. So what if it makes the piece longer! We're supposed to hear the material twice.

As you can tell from my relentless posts, I despise that the ratio of dead (& over the hill) performers to young vibrant ones among WQXR's picks is so high and rising. Paul Lewis is the only vibrant young-ish performer that has yet been selected for the list, that just isn't fair. I'm not asking for child prodigies, just great musicians in the prime of their careers.

I assume we might get Perahia or Brendel for the Piano Concertos (or Barenboim/Klemperer? If Brendel, choose the stellar live Levine/Chicago recordings). But as a substitute/alternative, how about Lars Vogt for the Piano Concertos 1 & 2? Or Michael Roll. And for the Violin Concerto, how about Frank Peter Zimerman or Christian Tetzlaff who both have stellar full Beethoven CDs with the Romances (and would be equal in quality to the older Mutter and Perlman recordings, which I'm sure are at least under consideration for the pick). I would also like to see Hilary Hahn's Beethoven picked, but her concerto is paired with the Bernstein serenade, so I guess she is out of the running. There is no excuse for not having a higher representation of younger performers.

Anyone want to chime in with other suggestions along these lines?

Let's mix up some young blood with the dry bones.

Nov. 09 2012 10:03 AM
Daniel Polowetzy from NYC

If Beethoven wrote repeats, then play the repeats!

Nov. 09 2012 07:53 AM

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About Beethoven Awareness Month

No composer impacted the course of Western music like Ludwig van Beethoven. The events of his life are the stuff of Romantic legend, his works permeate concert halls and he remains a cultural icon outside of classical music, turning up in movies, TV soundtracks, commercials and pop songs. Throughout November, WQXR celebrates Beethoven's work through concert broadcasts, multimedia projects, marathons and other features.