This CD should be titled: Darkness over Europe. Asking the Berlin Philharmonic to record these death-centric works in late 1938 / early 1939 was always going to be a minatory affair. The Zeitgeist hangs heavily over both performances. The evil that took an entire world to extinguish almost materialises before one's eyes . . . . .
De Sabata is a first class Brahmsian: this Fourth is just as memorable as offerings from Furtwangler, Herbie and Kleiber. Mind you, he transgresses the law to get to the spirit, tempo-wise - but we are the beneficiaries. The last movement is the quintessence of drama - even Attic drama. And it's a damn fine recording: sure, the timpani is a little bit recessed, but for all its limitations, it is a far more natural sounding affair than the Kleiber from 1980. The Death and Transfiguration is masterly. Even so: the Brahms is the greater work and this particular performance makes one wonder if old Johannes belonged to the ranks of Isaiah, Nahum & Jeremiah when he penned the Fourth . . . . .