This is an almost totally perfect tribute to Colin Davis’ work with the Staatskapelle Dresden. Profil has selected, from its continuing series of Dresden live concert recordings, six CDs representing Davis’s strengths in Elgar, Sibelius, and Berlioz, plus more variable outings in Germanic repertoire.
Let’s start with the good stuff: the set begins with a tremendous account of Elgar’s First, brimming with life and emotion and zeal. Tempos are fairly quick (51:16 versus 54:24 in the LSO remake), and the triumphant last few minutes are hugely affecting. Combine this with the glorious Dresden sound and it’s at the top of my list of favorite Elgar Firsts, live or studio, from any conductor or orchestra. (Also on the shortlist: Boult/BBC live on ICA Classics, Barbirolli on EMI.) The first CD ends with two flat-out fantastic readings of Berlioz overtures. There is simply no cause to complain.
Speaking of Berlioz, we get a live Requiem
, 5 minutes faster than his last recording, live with the LSO (89:00 vs. 94:00). This one dates from 1994, commemorating the 49th
(really) anniversary of the firebombing of Dresden. The performance is superb, rich and atmospheric and benefiting noticeably from the sumptuous acoustic. The missing five minutes won’t be noticed; Davis never rushes and the Dresden choruses contribute their finest. I wish the excellent Davis/Dresden Berlioz Te Deum
on this label had also been included; alas.
Also top-notch is the Sibelius disc, featuring a good En Saga
and a Symphony No. 2 which overcomes some slightly sluggish violins at the very beginning to become maybe Davis’s most exciting performance of the symphony. This is one of, what, four available readings (Boston, LSO RCA, LSO Live) but I’d make it first choice, since the second and last movements are that much more urgent and powerful, although the symphony’s final chords are punctuated by pauses I’m not used to hearing there. Luonnotar
makes a nice filler, with Ute Selbig in incredibly clear voice - you can understand every syllable. My favorite account will remain Soile Isokoski’s with Leif Segerstam leading a more mysterious accompaniment.
Less good than these are Davis’ forays into Mendelssohn, Schubert and Brahms. The Mendelssohn accounts are certainly good but never great, the “Reformation” Symphony, for instance, let down by a final coda that slows the pace and weakens the impact. The Schubert “Unfinished” is too darn slow for my taste; at nearly a half-hour, it offers us a funereal first movement that’s paced just like the second.
Sound quality varies but is always plenty good enough; there are some coughs and other performance noises but nothing distracting. The box set is simply the original releases packaged up together; if you want to download MP3s, you have to acquire each album separately, for now. That’s not a bad thing, because it enables you to skip the less-important Germanic repertoire. Here are links to MP3 albums on ClassicsOnline (which is how I listened): Elgar and Berlioz overtures
, Berlioz requiem
, Schubert and Brahms
, and the Berlioz Te Deum
which you should purchase instead of the Mendelssohn, Schubert and Brahms.
Brahms Symphony 3
~~ Elgar Symphony 1
~~ Mendelssohn symphonies
~~ Sibelius Symphony
CD 1 [74:58]
Edward ELGAR (1857-1934)
Symphony No. 1 in A flat major, Op. 55 (1908) [51:15]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Overture - Le roi Lear
(King Lear), Op. 4 (1831) [15:52]
Overture - Béatrice et Benedict
, Op. 9 (1862) [7:57]
CD 2 [72:50]
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 Scottish
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 107 Reformation
CD 3 [72:05]
JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 (1902) [42:49]
, Op. 9
for soprano and orchestra,
Op. 70 (1913) [9:49]
CD 4 [67:21]
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 Unfinished
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 (1883) [39:10]
CDs 5-6 [39:20 + 49:34]
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Grande Messe des Morts
), Op. 5 (1837) [88:43]