One might expect Andrew Manze's interpretations of Johannes Brahms' four symphonies to adhere to ideas of the movement for historically informed performance practice, due to his scholarship and dedication to authenticity in his early music performances. However, and somewhat paradoxically, he and the Helsingborg Symphony Orchestra have delivered more or less mainstream readings on modern instruments; there are no signs of late 19th century woodwind or brass timbres, and the strings play with standard vibrato. Yet Manze's historical fact finding has gone to a deeper level than just replicating instrumentation or orchestral scale, and he has found numerous clues to Brahms' intentions in the composer's transcriptions of the symphonies for two pianos, which often vary with the published orchestral scores in accentuation, tempo indications, and phrasing. These are fine points that can be discerned with careful listening and great familiarity with many other recordings of the symphonies, both conventional and historic, but they may not be the main thing listeners will consider in appreciating this set.
Otto Klemperer's Brahms needs no introduction. It remains a classic reference edition, one of the very few complete cycles with absolutely no weak links. It's customary to call these performances "granitic", an adjective that certainly applies to the First Symphony but doesn't begin to describe the swift and thrilling finale of the Fourth, the grand but impulsive Third (with its first-movement repeat in place), or the warmly lyrical Second. In general Klemperer's unsentimental but always gripping approach to this music practically defines the word "idiomatic". The Alto Rhapsody with Christa Ludwig also is one of the great ones, while the shorter works share the same virtues as the symphonies.