The four symphonies of Johannes Brahms form a compact and coherent body of work that is easily presented in sets, whether by themselves or with such popular orchestral works as the "Tragic Overture," the "Academic Festival Overture," and the "Variations on a Theme by Haydn." For this 2017 BSO Classics release, Andris Nelsons has recorded the symphonies in concert with the Boston Symphony Orchestra
, and the interpretations are mainstream and the music is skillfully played. Nelsons' style is comparable to that of many mid-20th century conductors, so there are few surprises in tempos, dynamics, phrasing, or emphasis. Indeed, Nelsons' set could be a consensus pick for traditionalists, so unswerving is he in virtually every aspect of these works. To the extent that anyone needs a solid reference recording, Nelsons' set is almost ideal, and aficionados and newcomers alike can turn to this package with pleasure. However, the market for recordings of Brahms' symphonies is crowded and highly competitive, and the lack of any extras may be a serious drawback for some collectors. The short running times of the first and third CDs (45:39 and 42:17, respectively) may cause some to think that a few more selections would have added value, and the usual favorites might have given it an edge over other packages.