not differing greatly in matters of detail and conception Davis’s Dresden recordings
of the Berlioz overtures show a lyrical ambiguity and tonal
complexity that sometimes outshine his 1960s London traversals. Partly this is to do with the rich and dark texture of
strings, as it is with the exalted wind principals of that orchestra
but it’s also to do with the shapely care with which Davis
sculpts the line, the acute judgement of dynamic curvature in
this music. These are not works that necessarily reveal their
full and troubling wholeness at breakneck virtuoso speed, nor
do they respond well to over-sluggish scrupulousness. But Davis
steers a practised course between these two extremes and the
results are masterful. As of course one would expect of him
in this repertoire.
of the most notable and distinguishing features of the Dresden orchestra’s playing can be heard in Les francs-juge Overture.
Here the warm, middle voicings of the string section are heard
at their most eloquent; no less the rounded brass and the razor-sharp
percussion. As a performance this is livelier and punchier than
Beecham’s more aristocratic panache and charm; it has buoyancy
a-plenty and Davis’ understanding of and instinct for the lyrical heart of the music
is matched by his awareness of the need for cumulative dramatic
drive. This is again true of the Waverley Overture, again tauter than Beecham’s more grand-seignorial approach,
though Beecham’s is a recording I particularly admire. Davis however gets those evocative mists
just right and lights the fire of the ripe strings with aplomb.
I was interested that his approach to Le roi Lear is
relatively restrained but don’t be deceived by the superficially
leisurely languor of the opening; this has commensurate power
and a sense of ominous undertaking throughout.
for Davis the coruscating intensity of Munch
in Le carnival romain Overture. Davis cleaves to the Beecham model in matters of tempo relation and not
everyone necessarily wants Munch’s scintillating vitesse
all the time. Other approaches work just as well. The balletic
grace of the Béatrice et Bénédict Overture is well founded
– elegance and sparkling winds to the fore coupled with a commensurate
lightness of string articulation elevate this performance pretty
much to the top of the recommended lists. And if Le Corsaire
can sound a mite becalmed alongside the two senior Berlioz
conductors already mentioned then there are compensations in
the brass section’s rounded strength. In Benvenuto Cellini
Overture he takes what sounds to me like a pretty ideal tempo
and bathes the overture in the pallor of refined, not unambiguous
elegance. This is a very difficult work to pull off successfully
and has defeated many a practised baton – but not Davis.
recording quality suits the warmth of the bronzed strings and
the term Classic Library for this series does well-merited
accolade for these powerfully understanding performances.