There has been a mixed critical response to Marin Alsop's Brahms Symphony cycle, and indeed the first customer review received for this present release, from Santa Fe Listener, is a bit less than laudatory. However, I must respectfully disagree with him. I found this to be a thoroughly satisfying performance and recording. It is true that Alsop tends to take middle-of-the-road tempi, but her way with nuanced rubato and dynamic shaping is really quite special. She certainly seems to have her own ideas about how to play this work. Indeed, the second movement, marked Andante moderato, is actually taken at what I would call an Adagio. At first I was dismayed by this, but as I continued listening (and listened again and again) I was completely won over by her approach. In fact, I kept thinking that the grandeur this lends the movement makes it almost Mahlerian in effect. Perhaps, this slow tempo is not precisely what Brahms intended, but it is effective for all that. As for the rumbustious third movement marked Allegro giocoso -- which almost always in concert draws applause from listeners unfamiliar with the work -- it is a magnificent performance. And then we get to what some feel is Brahms's most brilliant symphonic movement, the finale containing that majestic passacaglia. What a way for Brahms to go out! I was struck again and again how responsive the London Philharmonic is to Alsop's subtle shaping of the movement. And my goodness all departments of the orchestra play brilliantly. I have to say that this Brahms Fourth is magnificent. As for the recorded sound, it too is absolutely top-drawer with clarity, richness and power at all dynamic levels.
The filler on the disc comprises performances of a set of new orchestrations of those Hungarian Dances that Brahms himself didn't orchestrate, i.e. Nos. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, & 9. Slovak composer Peter Breiner did them and they sound echt-Brahmsian to me, particularly in their idiomatic use of percussion, reminding us that Brahms did the same in his orchestrations of Nos. 1, 3 & 10. I don't understand another reviewer saying they don't catch fire. All I can say is that for me they did.
Yes, this is a marvelous finale for this series. I recommend it heartily.