Admirers of Karajan will probably own most or all of these symphony cycles from what was probably the pinnacle of the conductor's prolific career. However, if you are unfamiliar with Karajan's work, or well enough acquainted with it to desire further exploration, then this amazingly inexpensive anthology can be enthusiastically recommended. I purchased all of these sets when they came out in DG's previous mid-priced "Karajan Symphony Edition," and I can testify to their consistently oustanding quality, both as performances and as interpretations. As recordings, however, it must be admitted that the sound is of variable quality; sometimes admirably vivid and well balanced, but frequently tending toward harshness, even garishness–particularly in those which come from the early digital era (cf. Bruckner's symphonies 1-3). Too bad Universal didn't see fit to give this magnificent legacy a sonic facelift. Still, the performances are sufficiently worthy of your attention to warrant purchase regardless of these sonic limitations.
The Karajan Official Remastered Edition comprises 13 box sets containing official remasterings of the finest recordings the Austrian conductor made for EMI between 1946 and 1984, which are now a jewel of the Warner Classics catalog. This 5-CD box includes Haydn's Die Jahreszeiten, Beethoven's Missa Solemnis and Brahms's German Requiem performed by the Berlin Philharmonic, with renowned vocal soloists such as Walter Berry and José van Dam.
Die Jahreszeiten, or The Seasons, is not as well loved as Haydn's other late oratorio, The Creation; here Haydn tried to force pastoral imagery – by 1801 a set of ideas that had been musically rehashed for centuries – into his late and in many respects proto-Romantic musical language.
These are not "classical" performances in the sense of attempting to reproduce the effect of a late eighteenth-century orchestra, but the interpretation has something classical about it all the same — a vigour and a sense of proportion which make me rate this record very highly among the many Karajan has given us … [the] guality of playing and interpretation and recording all combine to make this record … a luxury article. Gramophone (on the Haydn)
Haydn’s six Op. 20 string quartets are milestones in the history of the genre. He wrote them in 1772 for performance by his colleagues at the Esterházy court and, unusually, not specifically for publication. Each one is a unique masterpiece and the set introduces compositional techniques that radically transformed the genre and shaped it for centuries to come. Haydn overturns conventional instrumental roles, crafts remarkably original colours and textures, and unlocks new expressive possibilities in these works which were crucial in establishing the reputation of purely instrumental music. The range within the quartets is kaleidoscopic. From the introspective, chorale-like slow movement of No. 1 via the terse and radical quartet No. 3 in G minor to the comic spirit of the fourth in D major, each of the quartets inhabits a distinct musical world. For many, this is some of the greatest music Haydn ever wrote. Playing these seminal works is one of the world’s finest young ensembles, the Doric String Quartet.