Sir Colin Davis – Berlioz & Elgar

0 of 5 stars

Béatrice et Bénédict, Op.9 – Overture
Le roi Lear, Op.4
Symphony No.1 in A flat, Op.55

Staatskapelle Dresden
Sir Colin Davis

Live performances recorded at the Semperoper Dresden by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk – in 1997 (Berlioz) and 1998

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: December 2005
Duration: 75 minutes

A curious and unexpected release (Volume 1 of “Edition Staatskapelle Dresden”) and one that proves very welcome. The curiosity comes from having a German orchestra play Elgar (despite Elgar’s European lineage and his early successes being in Germany) and also asking whether Sir Colin Davis has approved this issue and if any contractual problems exist with Davis’s Dresden recording of Berlioz overtures made for RCA Red Seal (in January 1997, in the Lukaskirche, at the same time as these concert performances) and with Davis’s more recent Elgar 1 for LSO Live.

But I’m not a lawyer and this Profil CD is very fine, even though it would have been bettered laid out with the Berlioz items first (Beatrice then Lear, I think). The overture to “Beatrice and Benedict” is brought off with sparkle and quintessence and also an incision that relates its stage origins. If Staatskapelle Dresden drops the odd stitch along the way (and the trumpet makes a false entry), there’s an energy and piquancy that is irresistible. Similarly, King Lear (designated a concert overture and one of the most magnificent works in the repertoire) has a capability and beauty that reports the closest rapport between this great orchestra and a conductor that has worked in Dresden over many years with distinction. King Lear is here evocatively wrought, dramatically sustained and thrillingly culminated; the music leaps off the page and finds the orchestra in commanding form.

The Elgar glows and, in the slow introduction, the full statement of the motto tune sends a shiver down the spine; Staatskapelle Dresden seems convinced by Elgar’s score and brings warmth, tenderness and unforced power to it. Davis’s conception of Elgar 1 is a familiar one (this is his third recording of it, all of which have been live), a noble and deeply expressive view that appreciates the music’s symphonic architecture and the composer’s personal vein of fantasy and volatility: the man is in the music. If one would like, at times, greater unanimity to the playing and more pristine placing of detail, the spirit of the music is unerringly caught and there is much that is moving, stirring and spontaneous. The highlight is the Adagio, beautifully prepared for, is shaped with heartfelt identification (and a little bit of vocalising from Sir Colin!), the orchestra’s ‘golden’ strings coming into their own, as they also do in the finale’s mid-point ‘purple patch’ – alarmingly emotional if entirely ingenuous! The coda is of unbridled triumph; edited-out applause is missed for which artificial reverberation is no substitute.

For all that the recordings are fairly recent and, presumably, digital in origin, Profil sees fit to use and credit “sound restoration”. Actually the results are good if slightly variable (sometimes blowsy and restricted in the Elgar, but also tangible and involving, and revealing, unfortunately, that even cultured Dresdeners don’t turn off their bleeping digital watches!). At its best the sound combines weight, space and detail, and while the booklet annotation could be more forthcoming than merely giving the years of performance – and, as already indicated, applause, as well as some concert ambience, should be retained, too, especially at the symphony’s mysterious beginning – this is a musically impressive release that will be returned to with keen anticipation.

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