Turbulent flow inside a modified differentially heated cavity at high Rayleigh number (Ra ~ 109) has been studied through fully resolved direct numerical simulation (DNS) using the high-order spectral element method code Nek5000. The flow configuration includes two separate physical phenomena: the natural recirculation itself, and the flow inside a curved channel. Simulations have been carried out using both the Boussinesq approximation and the low-Mach compressible formulation. Significant discrepancies between the two methods inform of the extreme caution that should be exercised when using the Boussinesq approximation in the limits of its applicability. The DNS solutions are analyzed in terms of polynomial-order convergence and Reynolds stress budgets, and the turbulence quantities and velocity profiles are presented as a reference for the validation of turbulence models.