...although the recordings are 32 years old and remastered from analogue originals, no one need complain about the sound: it is warm, balanced, clear, and ingratiating.
As for the performances, they are even more astonishing than Andsnes's and Rattle's.The pairing of Barenboim and Barbirolli results in intensely Romantic Brahms; they play this music as if they are on a holy quest (which, in fact, they are). Even though slow tempos are the norm, the constant flowing and surging of passions charges the music, and I doubt that most listeners will be impatient or bored. Compared to Andsnes, Barenboim is less precise, less intentional in the way that he shapes a musical line, and arguably more "natural," although I admit the last point is extremely subjective. His technique is ample. Still, he doesn't make his part in the proceedings sound as easy as Andsnes does – a valid approach to this heroic music. If you believe that a feeling of challenge, struggle, and challenge overcome is essential to this music (and perhaps to music from the Romantic era in general), then Barenboim is your man.
And so is Barbirolli, for the same reasons. No orchestral phrase slips by without his careful scrutiny. I suppose that some listeners might find his conducting a little fussy, but I find his attention to musical ebb and flow sensitive, albeit masculine. In the purely orchestral works, he confirms his status as a major Brahmsian (although still an unhurried one). Fine as the New Philharmonia is, the Vienna Philharmonic outshines and "out-tones" them in the three orchestral works.--Raymond Tuttle