Daniel Barenboim’s Beethoven for All: the Symphonies

Decca has released the first in a series of collections of Beethoven’s major works by Daniel Barenboim. With three groups of works planned between now and the end of the year – the symphonies, the 32 piano sonatas, and the 5 piano concertos – this is a major project to provide new recordings of the heart of Beethoven’s output. (Though I would argue that the string quartets are just as important.) Barenboim records the symphonies and piano concertos with the West-Eastern Divan Orchestra, a youth orchestra that Barenboim created 13 years ago, consisting of musicians from various countries of the Middle East.

Available on Amazon.com for $28 on CD, but only $10 by download, the symphonies have been released this week. (The piano concertos will be released in August, with Barenboim leading the Staatskapelle Berlin from the keyboard, and the piano sonatas in October.) Interestingly, the download price point matches that of the recent set of HJ Lim’s Beethoven piano sonatas, though the CD price of that set is a more “normal” price, currently $96 for 8 CDs. With the Barenboim set, Decca seems to be targeting two demographics: classical music fans who might just buy “one more” set of Beethoven symphonies at a low price on CD, and non-classical listeners who might see this new set of symphonies for only $10 by download, and want to “try out” some classical music. (It’s worth noting that the set is $13 on the iTunes Store.)

I very much like Barenboim’s Beethoven, at least the piano sonatas; for those works, Barenboim is one of my favorite artists, and his DVD set recorded in 2005 (see the previous link) is a delight to watch and listen to. I’m less a fan of Beethoven’s symphonies, and I’m not really interested in this symphony set, though a cursory listen of the 90-second samples on the iTunes Store suggests that it is solid and well recorded.

To learn more about this set, you can check out a free 56-minute documentary available from the iTunes Store.