Warners have blitzed
the market with their economy Apex series
covering much of the mainstream repertoire
and a great deal beyond. Their latest
foray (not on Apex) is a sequence of
2003 Proms broadcasts licensed from
the BBC. This disc is from that series.
The CD is presented
without corner-cutting. Notes by Daniel
Jaffé are good, the odd typo
aside, and the photographs are not from
the usual suspects. Playing times are
not exceptional but are respectable
While the RAH is hardly
the technician's acoustic of choice
the recording here conveys atmosphere
and the sense of space. In addition
the fact that these performances are
live and have been broadcast internationally
removes any suggestion of tameness -
you cannot avoid risk in that context.
The players, singers and soloists know
that retakes are not possible.
This British programme
omits only Vaughan Williams and Tippett
from the mighty 20th century 'handful'
- OK six fingers!
The Walton Coronation
Te Deum is a little cracker. In
the space of ten minutes Walton bridges
the vaulting skies with images of the
heavenly hosts streaming into battle.
The great congregation of believers
raise paeans of praise with one voice.
Louis Frémaux and the CBSO in
a 1977 EMI sounds even more imposing
than Davis if only because that was
a studio recording. All the same this
is good and some of the soft singing
from the semi-chorus impresses by its
reticence. It would not be my first
choice but the performance does the
work no disservice.
Wyn-Rogers has a mild
tremble in her voice but presents an
emotionally well-stocked and coloured
version of Elgar's Sea Pictures.
I liked greatly her sensual way with
the words 'Kiss my lips ...' in In
Haven (the setting of Carol Alice
Elgar's poem). Davis adds crashing theatrical
emphasis to the start of The Swimmer.
This is a good version sung in the Janet
Baker manner. It is a mark of Warner's
care that the words are printed in full
with translation into German and French.
If you are looking for an intelligently
sung reading then look no further.
November Woods belongs
in any list of the 'Essential Bax'
alongside Symphony No. 6, Winter
Legends and the Piano Quintet. Davis
is fairly relaxed but tautens from time
to time. Rather as with the Marriner
recording (Philips), I detected a certain
lassitude in a work that really demands
a powerhouse drive. This flaccid element
arrives intermittently. The many fff
episodes are delivered with a mailed
fist by the brass - especially the billowy
horns. The rest of the brass rasp and
roar. The orchestra excels in a score
that is dense with a luxuriance of textures.
This ultimately is very good rather
than great; for that you must turn to
Boult and Lyrita Recorded Edition. While
its companions on that Boult/LPO disc
are less than perfect, the 1968 November
Woods is a reference version perfectly
catching the moments that bask in ecstasy
as well as those that rage in fury.
Boult's savage Northern Ballad No.
1 is superb as well.
The Britten is
in a single track. It is a pity that
there is not a separate band for each
variation. The BBCSO responds with character
to each variation. Davis injects some
very unBritten-like hushed romance into
the harp variation. He relishes the
Dies Irae allusion at 10.02 and
the Serenade-style roar
of the horns at 10.14. Amid all the
Prokofiev-style brilliance and sheer
fun (Davis is wonderful in putting this
across) there is also the stunning ardour
(brass at 15:20, 15:31) and grandeur
of the arched counterpoint that boils
its way through the final pages. No
wonder the audience loved it.
This disc operates
as both an imaginative and largely unhackneyed
anthology of British works as well as
a souvenir of what must surely have
been a memorable concert.
see also review
by Kevin Sutton