Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828) Symphony No. 7 [8] in B minor D759 Unfinished [28:06]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 [39:10]
Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis
rec. 22 October 1992, Semperoper, Dresden
Sir Colin Davis has a long association with the Staatskapelle Dresden. He first appeared with them in 1981 and the association prospered to the extent that in 1991 he was named the orchestra’s first-ever Honorary Conductor. This disc is devoted to two live performances, given at the same concert in 1992 just a few days before Sir Colin led the orchestra on a twelve-concert tour of Japan, the repertoire for which included both these symphonies. It seems to me that these performances bespeak an excellent rapport between conductor and players.
The Schubert might be termed an “old-fashioned” performance. It’s spacious and romantic in conception and, in my view, none the worse for that, especially when it’s played as well as this. The first movement is especially impressive. Davis and his players make the most of the dynamic contrasts written into the score and, indeed, use these contrasts to enhance – though not exaggerate - the symphonic drama. So the movement begins at the edges of audibility and the familiar first subject steals in: all this feels just right. A bit further on, there’s another example of felicitous dynamics when a long crescendo (between 7:38 and 8:27) is superbly achieved. The sound starts almost from nothing and gradually swells, its growth organic and natural. Davis leads a deeply serious interpretation of this movement, generating a good deal of tension. He’s helped to realise his conception by some glorious, unforced playing; the whole performance is masterly.
In some ways, after this the Andante feels a little anti-climactic. However, the performance is delicate and affectionate. The playing is consistently refined but in the louder passages there’s the requisite degree of weight and strength. One can only admire the lovely wind playing – the principal clarinet is especially pleasing - while the string tone is rich and deep. It’s a glowing performance.
The Brahms Third is no less successful. Indeed this is one of those performances where everything just seems right. The first movement is launched with vigour and throughout this movement – and throughout the symphony, in fact – the strength and tonal depth of the Dresdeners is very satisfying; the sonority of the basses is particularly welcome. The exposition repeat is taken of course, and later the development section is delivered with great energy.
Davis achieves an easy, warm lyricism in II – again the playing is burnished – and I felt that the phrasing was beautifully poised, The reading of III is unforced and natural, enhanced by some singing string contributions. The horn solo at 4:00 has that distinctive East European tone and as I listened I reflected that Brahms may well have been used to hearing such a sound from the horn players of his day.
Davis’s way with the finale strikes me as ideal. He invests the very opening with a fine feeling of suppressed energy but from 0:50 he obtains real vigour from the orchestra. The main allegro material is played with vitality and dynamism. And then, from around 6:23, the extended valedictory coda is beautifully handled, bringing a most satisfying interpretation to a lovely close, the dying embers of Brahms’s music glowing gently but brightly.
The recording emanates from a broadcast by the radio station MDR Kultur. Their engineers have done a fine job in reporting the orchestra. The booklet is well illustrated though the extensive booklet note, at least in its English translation, is somewhat on the fulsome side.
This is an exceptionally satisfying disc, reminding us once again – as if we needed it – what a distinguished conductor Sir Colin Davis is and how fine an instrument is the Staatskapelle Dresden.

John Quinn
An exceptionally satisfying disc.