I am very grateful that DG has reissued the Abbado Brahms cycle in a budget price box and made it available again to buyers who might not be able to afford new top-price releases.
After Abbado's recent death, it is welcome to be reminded of his strengths as a conductor. This cycle of Brahms symphonies was one of his first fruits of his tenure with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. What I admire about Abbado's treatment of Brahms is its balance. It is both dramatic and lyrical, clarifying Brahms's orchestral textures. His recording of the First Symphony bears this out. It captures its stern, unsmiling mood quite well, but yet finds room for warmth. The other symphonies fare well too. The Second is a highlight of the cycle and brings out the Italianate warmth inherent in Abbado's conducting. The Third and Fourth have a momentum of their own, yet they are also supple and clear, giving each section the chance to shine.
In addition to the symphonies this box includes some of the shorter choral works with orchestra, the two overtures, the Haydn Variations and the two Serenades. They are also given excellent performances and allow us to know Brahms in his other guises.
The only downside to this reissue is that this set doesn't include the sung texts and translations of the vocal works as in the full-priced disc. I am surprised that DG didn't make them available as PDFs.
In any case, it is good to have this cycle in a reissue that is more friendly to budgets and shelf space. This cycle encapsulates a lot of the music making that we love and miss about Abbado.