Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)
Symphony No.5 in D, Op.107 (Reformation)
Sir Colin Davis
Live performances recorded by Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk in Semperoper Dresden August/September 1997 (Scottish Symphony) and on 28 October 1997
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: February 2006
CD No: PROFIL EDITION GÜNTER HÄNSSLER PH05048
Duration: 73 minutes
Profil’s continuing survey of Staatskapelle Dresden continues with these spacious accounts of Mendelssohn symphonies under Sir Colin Davis that enjoy the full weight of sound conjured by this great orchestra but never at the expense of light and shade and lucid textures. The opening to the Scottish Symphony reveals as much; fulsome-sounding that is dynamic in every sense, with flexible, almost volatile, fluctuations of tempo and a sense of drama that establishes a Romantic and ‘modern’ approach to this wonderfully crafted and descriptive music.
The Scottish is given a weighty, gutsy and malleable reading, played with seasoned experience, and reporting the close rapport that Colin Davis and the Dresdeners have established over the years. Lyrical subjects are played with time and affection and there is much that is picturesque when the music is given time to express itself; having convincingly eschewed the repeat of the exposition in the first movement of the Scottish, Davis and the orchestra create a misty seascape that will, eventually, turn into a tempest – not through speed but through the ability to build a climax with patience and long-term planning. The attaccas that link the four movements of the Scottish are all finely timed (although not without some ‘black-hole’ editing that removes ambience: a shame); the mercurial scherzo is deftly turned and detailed, at once light and vigorous, and the Adagio is tenderly beautiful, openly heartfelt. Not encumbered by the editor’s splicing is the dramatic explosion of the finale, trenchant and sonorous here, and the ‘castle gates’ closing pages mix pomp and exhilaration. But, what happens at 9’56”? I’m sorry to report that a few bars of music are missing! Another ‘a shame’.
The Reformation Symphony, something of an underestimated masterpiece, also enjoys the gravitas of the Dresden/Davis partnership; this is a glowing account, serious and reflective; in the slow introduction the “Dresden Amen” link to Wagner’s “Parsifal” is made explicit by Davis and the sweetly radiant Dresden strings, and there’s no lack of impetus and drama in the ensuing Allegro con fuoco. The following scherzo has a measured gait, too much maybe, but the lilt is endearing, the approach endearing, and the blissful trio is encapsulated perfectly; this is Colin Davis not doing it by numbers but by instinct and with personality. And if the scherzo is indulged, in the nicest possible way, the intermezzo-like Andante has a ruminative flow that brings necessary contrast to the ongoing symphonic design, the majestic finale given due majesty with fugal elements made buoyant en route to a full-throated and big-hearted peroration.
The recordings have weight and heft; if not ideally clear – being a little constricted and also somewhat edgy in fortissimos and with a suspicion of digital processing (more so in the Reformation with some low frequency discoloration, and an odd hiatus at 9’47” in the first movement that seems implanted post-performance) – then this is not necessarily a barrier to listening to performances that are eloquently satisfying and built to last.