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.
It was a long weekend. The outliers of the Australian Knappertsbusch Association dropped in for a booze-up and we thoroughly trashed ourselves. I kicked the buggers out at dawn and went to bed. Anyway, I was woken up by a noise in the garage. At first, I thought it was a burglar. It wasn’t. I keep any number of tools and gizmos there. Pride of place goes to my Herbie Soup-o-Meter – but I’m inordinately proud of my John Kwok Random Five Star Review Generator. As it turned out, the latter was playing up. I re-set it then when back to bed. It continued to buzz. That could only mean one thing: I logged onto Amazon.com and stumbled upon his review of Haitink’s Brahms Fourth with the London Symphony Orchestra. While I was semi-inebriated, that combo is no heart-starter. Indeed, nausea was mine; does JK know nothing of Furtwangler’s performance of the B4 from November 1943, I asked myself, as remastered by Andrew Rose at Pristine? Evidently not. I looked closer. Much to my horror, some poor bugger from the Grady Harp Review Sweatshop had also pooped out a laudatory Five Star review of this white-bread offering. The convergence warranted a response.
In Russell Crowe’s Gladiator, Oliver Reed (a former member of the AKA) played Proximo – an impresario of gladiators. The convergence called me to do the same. It’s time to line up these two reviewers in combat and ascertain who is the fluffier of the pair.
JK: “Best Recording of the Brahms 4th Symphony currently available” GH: “Rich, Powerful and Eloquent Brahms” I’d give that one to John. Headlines are cavalry whereas text is infantry – he understands this.
JK: “Haitink's stately, riveting interpretation of this symphony is as magical an interpretation as Carlos Kleiber's acclaimed mid 1980's Deutsche Grammophon account with the Vienna Philharmonic or Herbert Blomstedt's Decca mid 1990's account with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (WITF???).” GH: “Haitink conducts with his usual respect for Brahms' notations, managing to allow the surges of his melody lines to sing where they should and lead into the next thought in a natural and cohesive manner.” Again, as much as I appreciate the well-worn clichés from Grady, John is blowing him to smithereens by virtue of hyperbole. He must be the only guy in Christendom to mention Kleiber / VP in the same breath as this vin ordinaire but there you go. Come not between John Kwok and his Five Star Dispensary!
JK: “Haitink has conducted the London Symphony in an unusually warm, vibrant performance of this symphony, which is replete with excellent solo performances from the french horns, woodwinds and strings. I was especially pleased with Haitink's dignified, but still brooding, interpretation of the 4th movement, which comes across as a musical interlude between darkness and light.” GH: “The orchestra sounds particularly warm and resonant on this recording and the recording ambience is live without seeming cavernous.” John is lapping Grady at this point. For “solo performances” read “contributions” and how can a finale be a “musical interlude”?
To the last round of this bout:
GH: “It simply has more majesty and is in keeping with the master's own thoughts that this was his most elegiac statement.” JK: “I believe that it is without question, the best recording of this symphony currently available.” Grady (or his minions) are always at their dodgiest when quoting original sources. JK keeps it simple with a solid jab. Again, the points for this round go to the latter.
Here at least, chalk up another victory for John Kwok, even if he refrained from using his favourite word ‘definitive’. From my perspective, this performance of the Brahms Fourth with Haitink and the LSO is what you’d expect it to be: dignified, respectful and boring as bat-poop. It has nothing of the ferocity that so enlivens Furtwangler ‘43. In the blandness of its palette, the orchestra could almost be the Melbourne SO on a good night (and that ain’t saying much). And see, what with my exposure to this vapour, I'm becoming Grady-ised!
I would not underestimate the longevity of Amazon. Long after we’re dust, it’ll still be here. With luck, it could outlast the pyramids. John Kwok’s hyperbole and the generalisations of the Grady Harp sweatshop will resonate down the ages and fruitfully so. With no illumination to their name but glitter aplenty, praised be their holy names!