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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Symphony No. 28 in C major, K200 (1774) [21:34]
Symphony No. 33 in B flat major, K319 (1779) [19:54]
Divertimento in F major, K247 (1776) [29:43]
Symphony No. 36 in C major, K425 (1783), Linz [25:31]
Symphony No. 38 in D major, K504 (1786), Prague [26:13]
Divertimento in D major, K251 (1776), Nannerl-Septett [22:09]
English Chamber Orchestra/Colin Davis
rec. March 1960 (K247, 251), June 1961 (319 & 425), December 1962 (200, 504). ADD
ELOQUENCE 442 8149 [71:25 + 74:04]

On 25 September 2007 Colin Davis celebrated his 80th birthday. This two CD set presents him as a Mozart interpreter in his early thirties in the three complete Mozart LPs he made for L’Oiseau-Lyre with the English Chamber Orchestra. The Divertimenti were first issued on SOL 60029, Symphonies 33 and 36 on SOL 60049 and Symphonies 28 and 38 on SOL 266.
Freshness of engagement is the most striking feature of these performances. The English Chamber Orchestra emerged in 1960 but evolved from the Goldsbrough Orchestra which had specialized in baroque repertoire. So Mozart was being approached from a chamber perspective and from awareness of earlier music. Another key element is Davis’ incisive approach to rhythm. These are performances of great zest without ever being abrasive. They are also refined without ever becoming just ornamental, as in the strings’ filigree work in the first movement of Symphony 28. In its slow movement the strings are warm, tender and gossamery without becoming mushy. In the Minuet Davis relishes the beguiling contrast of upstanding and relaxed manner in alternate phrases while the Trio is surprisingly fun. The finale contrasts delicate violins and bracing tuttis with prominent horns.
I compared the 1968 recording by the Berliner Philharmoniker/Karl Bohm (Deutsche Grammophon 453 231-2). Here are the comparative timings:

6:59 (9:36)
21:22 (23:59)

In the outer movements both Davis and Bohm make the first half but not second half repeats. In the slow movement Davis makes both first and second half repeats but Bohm only repeats the first half, so I’ve put in brackets above an exact equivalent timing. Bohm’s first movement is formal, sonorous and rather strenuously high powered in the tuttis. Davis is more festive than powerful in the tuttis, has more momentum and humour, for example in the second theme (tr. 1 0:42). Bohm’s slow movement lingers affectionately. Davis brings more sense of progression, shape and flow. Bohm’s Minuet is rather portly in the opening of its sections where Davis is more forthright. Bohm’s Trio is similarly starchy where Davis is dapper. Bohm’s finale is a touch careful in the opening violins’ figuration where Davis shows a more lithe athleticism. Bohm’s second theme is resilient but with Davis (tr. 4 0:28) it’s more optimistic with the sheen and lilt of his first violins.
Davis’ account of Symphony 33 is characterized in its first movement by clean line, a certain classical detachment and pleasing phrasing. His slow movement has a warm dignity, with a sunnier second section. The tempo seems just right: due measure but not over indulged. You could say the same of his spruce Minuet and neat and courtly Trio. The finale offers a delightful succession of tunes delivered with thematic clarity and lightness of texture and touch, the strings displaying delicacy and verve by turns.
I compared Colin Davis’ recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden made in 1991 (Decca 475 9120). Here are the comparative timings:

Davis 1961
Davis 1991
6:18 (4:25)
21:43 (19:50)

The 1991 Davis repeats the first half of the finale but not the second, so the figures above in brackets provide an exact comparison. The Dresden Davis is more stylish in the first movement but also more considered. The English Davis is fresher and more incisive with a sweetly reflective second theme (tr. 5 1:04) even if not as beguiling as the Dresden. The sudden, soft passage in the coda (6:55) remains smooth and sunny where the Dresden account makes it a more vivid shadow.
In the opening of the slow movement the English Davis doesn’t have as rich a strings’ texture as the Dresden but the phrasing is more flowing, the second section (tr. 6 1:01) simpler, more affecting in its appeal than the more expressive plaintiveness of the Dresden. The English Davis development (2:16) opens more gracefully too. In the Minuet it’s the English Davis who has more lift and thrust, even a touch of cheekiness while his Trio has a well contrasted quieter, unassuming flow. The English Davis finale is a bundle of energy with a light second theme (tr. 8 0:29), not as smiling as the Dresden, and sweet third one (0:58). The English Davis development (1:54), slightly languorous, is more expressive than the Dresden’s urbanity.
Turning next to Symphony 36, the introduction to the first movement is finely shaped by Davis: a direct, forthright opening is followed by a spacious, lyrical response with the sforzandi rather understated. The main allegro has an ideal blend of crispness and lyricism. Davis brings to the slow movement a touch of dreaminess to its softer focus, yet the development has an appropriate touch of firmness. The Minuet is spruce and clear yet relaxed by turns. The finale is a mix of the sprightly and bracing with always a clean line and invigorating effect. I compared the English Chamber Orchestra conducted by Jeffrey Tate, recorded in 1985 (EMI 5855892). Here are the comparative timings:

11:00 (8:29)
11:07 (8:17)
7:23 (5:18)
33:03 (25:37)

Tate brings a majestic, measured introduction opening with a rather romantically melting lyrical response followed by a lively allegro of rounded weightiness with fairly beefy horns, trumpets and timpani. There’s more progression to Davis’ introduction while his allegro is more spikily assertive. Smoother passages for woodwind alone contrast with grittier strings. The whole has more bite but on the other hand Davis also provides more poised shaping of the first violins’ motif that dominates the opening of the development (CD2, tr. 1, 4:22).
Tate finds a smooth, crafted expressiveness for the slow movement including sensitive attention to dynamic contrasts. The effect is stylish, even wistful at times, but a little calculated. Davis has a sheenier flow and sunnier feel yet his climaxes are more ardent, so his expressiveness seems more heart-on-sleeve. Again he brings more character to a strings’ motif that is showcased in the development (tr. 2 2:40).
Tate’s Minuet has fair bounce and is by turns grand and cajoling. Davis’ Minuet has more zip in the louder passages and is more coquettish in the softer. His Trio has a more comely, carefree flow where Tate is somewhat formal. Tate’s finale alternates a gratefully reflective sunny quality and vigour. It has excitement of projection and a chic development. Davis, slightly slower, again reveals more character, with more sheen and musing quality to the reflective passages and more bite to the vigorous ones. His development (tr. 4 2:14), more sharply articulated, introduces more tension. In sum, Tate’s Mozart is more beautiful but Davis gives you more guts. In the first movement Tate repeats the exposition while Davis does not. Hence the timing above in brackets for exact comparison. In the slow movement and finale Tate repeats the exposition but not the second half while Davis makes neither repeat.
Symphony 38 is the last in this Eloquence collection. Davis makes the first movement introduction measured and brooding but it’s followed by a forthright allegro and rigorous development. Yet the lighter aspects also stand out, such as the first lyrical response in the introduction, the allegro’s sinuous second theme and even a swashbuckling kind of recapitulation. The slow movement is dreamier, perhaps a touch too slow but with plenty of allure and the patient way all the elements unfold is satisfying. The finale has all the festive bounce you could desire and a fiery close.
Again I compared Colin Davis’ recording with the Staatskapelle Dresden, this one made in 1988 (Decca 475 9120). Here are the comparative timings:
Davis 1962
10:37 (13:35)
9:40 (13:24)
26:13 (32:55)
Davis 1988

The Dresden Davis is more poetic in the softer passages in the first movement introduction but this latterly becomes a little mannered in its expansive approach, timing at 3:09 against the English Davis 3:02 whose approach is more flowing and shape firmer. The Dresden Davis allegro is lighter, more expectant whereas the English Davis is more projected with the strings’ semiquavers more fiery. The English Davis’ second theme (4:01) is light and deft where the Dresden is more relaxed. The English Davis third theme (4:41) is more winsome in its fluent progression and continuation. His development (6:02) begins very light but soon becomes more rigorous, more so than the Dresden, and is notable for its clarity of rhythm and texture and also sense of exploration.
The Dresden slow movement seems very measured but is notable for its sensitive and dramatic dynamic shading and warm, tender development. The English Davis slow movement is more clearly shaped which gives an impression of more momentum though the exposition at 3:44 is slower than the Dresden’s 3:34. This also gives the English Davis development a more wistful and reflective manner.
The Dresden finale alternates light and imposingly weighty articulation with rigorous and stark tuttis in the development contrasted with airier woodwind passages. The English Davis finale has a more energetic feel. The development’s tutti are more healthily boisterous with a sense of heroic striving and the contrasted woodwind passages, featuring fine ensemble, are a particular delight. The Dresden Davis repeats the first movement exposition but not the second half. The English Davis makes neither repeat. The Dresden Davis repeats the slow movement exposition, the English Davis doesn’t. In the finale both recordings make the exposition but not second half repeat. The figures in the table above in brackets provide an exact comparison.
In the K247 Divertimento Davis gets across well the variation of mood in the first movement. If the more masculine aspects, the accents in particular, are rather gruffly realized, the lyrical ones are sweetly revealed, the singing violin lines delicately skating. In the second movement, the bittersweet gleam to the strings has an earnest charm. In the first Minuet the horns bring rawness while both they and the strings have a furtive, questioning air in the Trio. In the adagio, shot through with hope despite the overall sadness, we’re in the world of Figaro’s Countess, a heart melting performance. The second Minuet is a dapper one with a dainty Trio. The andante introduction to the finale is a little too mistily sentimental but the allegro assai recovers decorum and lightness of touch for a suitably rollicking close.
To the K251 Divertimento Davis brings a robust, perky baroque manner. In the opening movement a bracing canter meets an elegant parade. The first Minuet’s stateliness is subverted by its touches of geniality. The third movement has a demure simplicity and appealing oboe touches as it varies the theme towards the end. The second Minuet features jocular variations by solo oboe and violin in turn. Than comes an effervescent Rondeau and finally a grand and beaming March. Both Divertimenti were recorded by Sandor Vegh and the Camerata Academica des Mozarteums Salzburg in 1986-7 (Capriccio 49 368) with more appropriately modest forces and neater, more stylish pointing but also more politeness and less internal contrast.
Throughout Davis brings spirited performances which engage your attention. However, the recordings lack finesse. Despite their clarity, the bass and overall ambience are rather dull and the strings in loud passages somewhat glassy. Nevertheless the brightness and sweetness of the playing comes through.
Michael Greenhalgh


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