Colin Davis & Sadler’s Wells – Classics for Pleasure

0 of 5 stars

Carmen [excerpts; sung in English]

Carmen – Patricia Johnson
Don José – Donald Smith
Escamillo – Raimund Herincx
Micaela – Elizabeth Robson
[And others]

Sadler’s Wells Opera Chorus
Sadler’s Wells Opera Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Recorded in October 1961 in No.1 Studio, Abbey Road, London



Oedipus Rex – Opera-oratorio in two acts

Oedipus – Ronald Dowd
Creon / Messenger – Raimund Herincx
Tiresias – Harold Blackburn
Jocasta – Patricia Johnson
Shepherd – Alberto Remedios
Speaker – Sir Ralph Richardson

Sadler’s Wells Opera Chorus (men)
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis

Music recorded in Kingsway Hall, London in November 1961; Narration taped in Abbey Road, July 1962



Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: June 2003
CD No: See below

These are but two of a plethora of Sadler’s Wells releases which Classics for Pleasure has just issued. Overall they will, I suspect, be of primary interest to those who owned the original LPs or attended the shows.

The point of this review is the conductor. Colin Davis, pre-Royal Opera House and pre-knighthood, was in charge of matters musical at Sadler’s Wells during the first half of the ’sixties. The Carmen excerpts – fine in terms of extraction until we are left in mid-air during Act 3! – begin with a swaggering and articulate account of the Prelude, including a few rhetorical emphases that today the just-as-vital Sir Colin might disown!

The lack of French loses the music its sensuality. The singing-style – rolled R’s, exaggerated word-play, moments precious, stagey and hammy; add in some intonation problems and vibrato excess – displays a certain age while raising a smile and a grimace! Showing how it can be done is Raimund Herincx – he doesn’t force dynamics and brings equilibrium of tone. He also does his best to make the translation seem less ill-fitting than it is.

Colin Davis’s conducting stands out – his future then assured and measured unequivocally over four decades. He conducts with affection and tenacity – even if one doesn’t know who is at the helm, it’s not difficult to hear a force of personality, someone who insists on particular things being done. For Davis and Herincx, this CD is worth a listen.

Oedipus Rex is the prize, a veritable bargain – a performance to rank with the best and not, this time, compromised by a change of language: the music is sung in Latin, a language that Stravinsky described as “turned to stone”. Ralph Richardson’s narration has its risible moments, yet, accent and enunciation aside, he brings his theatrical instincts to bear in a way that can only grip the listener and plunge us straight into the drama.

Colin Davis has an instinctive feel for music-theatre, and with a recording vivid and weighty, this really is a finely judged rendition. The men’s chorus is focussed, the instrumental lines beautifully clear (not least piano and timpani), and the soloists are integrated without being denied their role-play. Ronald Dowd, sure of line, is a demonstrative Oedipus, and the whole cast is excellent, Raimund Herincx once more, and Patricia Johnson seems more at home as Jocasta than as Carmen.

Incisively conducted, Davis allies sentiment, sentience and dramatic impact; he has the measure of Oedipus’s monumentality and of the parts that make up that sum. At CFP’s budget price, there really is no need to hesitate.

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