After being highly impressed by Haitink's recordings with the LSO of Beethoven's symphonies, I thought that the performances of the Brahms symphonies with the exact same performers and cd label would be well worth a listen. I have to admit that I was a little dissapointed. This 4th is full of some really great moments, such as the perfect balance between winds and pizzicato strings near the beggining of the second movement, the exciting, playful performance of the ending of the third movement, a really beautiful flute solo in the fourth movement and a thrilling recapitulation and ending also in the fourth movement. Other general good points about this performance are the accuracy of the LSO, who can never be caught playing a wrong note and the warm, bold and expressive sound they produce. The clearness of the articulation is excellent, the strings in particular execute Brahms' articulation markings very well.
Now to the bad points, in many parts of the performance, not enough was made of the dynamics and there was not enough shape in the beautiful melodic phrases. This is mostly in the first movement. The opening to the fourth movement, which is supposed to be an exciting start to one of the greatest finales in the symphonic repetoire, seems a little dull here. Probably because of the lethargic sounding trombones, it is really like that in the previous three movements that Brahms had kept them silent they had fallen asleep! They do wake up though when this opening statement returns later in the movement, and from that point on, well really from the beautiful flute solo a few minutes before, the performance is excellent and the last few minutes are really worth waiting for. Haitink's tempi are always fine, they always work. He seldom uses rubato which works in Brahms whoses melodies generally need more dynamic shaping than "tempo shaping". And as I have said, too often, Brahms' delightful melodies go without dynamic shaping in this performance.
The recorded is of a very high standard, and each section of the orchestra can be heard clearly. Another problem with this disc is that it is just the symphony with no coupling, bringing the running time to just over 40 minutes. So overall, this disc would recieve around 3.5 stars from me, but as amazon only allows whole numbers, and I do not believe this disc fully deserves 4 stars, I have awarded it 3 stars.
So you could do better, this is a rather good performance which many highlights but too many rather dull points as well. So if you are looking for an all-rounded performance of Brahms 4, I would thoroughly reccommend Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Phil.