Grzegorz Nowak / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

Brahms: Symphonies No. 1-4

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Grzegorz Nowak's Brahms cycle with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra is a reliable standard-issue set, offering all four symphonies with recordings of the Academic Festival Overture, the Tragic Overture, the Variations on a Theme by Haydn, and a bonus, the Serenade No. 1, all on five CDs. In terms of the performances, the playing is first-rate and wonderfully clear without sacrificing any of the richness of Brahms' textures, and Nowak conducts by the book, keeping his interpretations well within the mainstream. His set offers conventional tempos with sparing use of rubato, accurate dynamics, and a big, modern orchestral sound that makes no attempt to appeal to fans of historically informed practice. To that point, Nowak's rather traditional-sounding Brahms has more in common with Arturo Toscanini or Bruno Walter than with Roger Norrington or John Eliot Gardiner, and listeners may be glad for that. The sound of the 2010 recordings is amazingly rich, vibrant, and full, and the quality is high enough to rival super audio sound, even though these are compact discs with no indications of special studio enhancement.

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