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Sir Colin Davis - Staatskapelle Dresden
see end of review for contents
Ute Selbig (soprano - Luonnotar)
Keith Ikaia-Purdy (tenor - Grande Messe)
Chor der Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden; Sinfoniechor Dresden; Singakademie Dresden (Grande Messe)
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden/Sir Colin Davis
rec. live, Semperoper, Dresden, 1998 (Elgar), 1997 (Berlioz overtures), 1997 (Mendelssohn), 1988 (Sibelius Symphony), 2003 (En Saga, Luonnotar), 1992 (Schubert, Brahms), 1994 (Berlioz).
No sung texts provided
PROFIL EDITION PH13032 [6 CDs: 74:58 + 72:50 + 72:05 + 67:21 + 39:20 + 49:34] 
Profil has rushed out this six disc set to mark the death of conductor Sir Colin Davis on 14 April 2013 and commemorate the work he did with the Staatskapelle Dresden. The set comprises a selection of eleven works performed with the Staatskapelle Dresden at their Semperoper home in Dresden. It seems that these are all live recordings from radio broadcasts.  

Sir Colin’s conducting debut was at the young age of twenty-two. He had to wait some years for his big break. This came in 1959 when he deputised for Otto Klemperer who was unwell and was for a production of Mozart’s Don Giovanni at Sadler’s Wells, London.
 
Sir Colin’s association with the Staatskapelle Dresden, one of the world's oldest orchestras, began in 1981 by which time he had held several prestigious appointments and had been knighted. He is remembered as a great friend of the orchestra who took an active interest in its activities and problems. It was in 1991 that it appointed him as the orchestra’s first Conductor Laureate.
 
On CD 1 the first work is the Elgar Symphony No. 1 that Sir Colin recorded with the Staatskapelle Dresden in 1998. The performance here is a fine one rather than a great one with the playing seeming a touch rushed and over-vigorous. The Allegros are lacking in a degree of subtlety. There’s a stately Elgarian feel together with an undertow of anguished introspection. After the angry and near brutal outbursts of the second movement Allegro molto the eminently moving Adagio so marvellously played by the Staatskapelle serves as welcome balm. I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the sound quality which is rather bright and close. I was left wanting a touch more depth.
 
Sir Colin was also widely recognised as a Berlioz authority with a body of recordings revered by the composer’s admirers. Recorded in 1997 Berlioz’s Le roi Lear, at nearly sixteen minutes is a lengthy score - more of a tone poem than an overture. From 1831 the score reflects the composer’s fascination with Shakespeare. The dark shadowy opening, evocative of some eerie Scottish castle surrounded in dense mist, sets the scene marvellously with Sir Colin skilfully and assuredly revealing the intense drama of the score.
 
Also recorded in 1997, the overture to the opera Béatrice et Benedict from 1862 is the composer’s last major work. Opening in a light and vibrant mood the music gradually becomes intensely passionate.
 
The second disc comprises two great Mendelssohn symphonies brilliantly played in 1997. Overall the sound quality feels a tad cloudy in the forte passages but nothing to unduly detract from the playing.
 
Although completed in 1842 theSymphony No. 3 strongly reflects Mendelssohn’s impressions from his 1829 holiday in Scotland where he became captivated by the country’s natural beauty. The playing is atmospheric and quite irresistible - a recording I have come to cherish. I love the way Sir Colin builds the weight and tension in the opening Adagio con moto. The stunning and melodic Adagio,one of Mendelssohn’s finest movements, feels so expressive achieving a rewarding degree of high drama. The Finale is energetic and vibrant with an impressive triumphant feel.
 
The Symphony No. 5,despite its late numbering was in fact the second of his five mature symphonies. Mendelssohn composed it in 1830 to mark the three hundredth anniversary of the ‘Augsburg Confession’, a keystone of the Lutheran Reformation. A sense of wonderment is created in the opening Andante - Allegro con fuoco with Sir Colin conveying an intense feeling of joy and elation contrasted with a curious sacred sense of reverence. Intensely romantic and highly lyrical the Andante could be a love scene from a ballet. The mainly dense writing of the Finale is cloaked in a heavenly veil of passion. Passages of considerable weight and drama conclude the score in a decidedly spectacular manner.
 
Disc 3 consists of three Sibelius works including the highly popular Symphony No. 2. Although much of the score was sketched out in the Italian cities of Florence and Rapallo the symphony is sometimes heard as a symbol of the rising Finnish patriotism against the tightening constraints of Russian control. Sir Colin is in his element with the work’s distinctive orchestration that many consider heavy and uncomfortably confined. It’s a searching interpretation with a shimmering, eerie calm that infuses the opening Allegretto. The climaxes of the darkly turbulent second movement are confidently built with weight and passion. In the headlong Scherzo marked Vivacissimo a glorious sound-world is created, evocative of densely wooded Nordic valleys and ice cold lakes. The big tune in the Finale is as bold and dramatic as I have come to expect from this conductor with the brass fanfares shining out like beacons. The taut and highly effective Coda generates remarkable potency.  

A substantial tone poem En Saga, Op. 9,a relatively early work from 1892, seems to be an expression of the “painful experiences” that Sibelius had undergone. Exquisite pacing and judicious weighting are to the fore in this atmospheric score where a panoply of nature sounds flourish. I love the way that the score ebbs to a calm conclusion.

From 1913 Luonnotar scored soprano and orchestra is an unusual combination for a tone poem. Written whilst Finland was still under Russian control the work is regarded as an expression of the composer’s nationalistic beliefs. The text from a Finnish mythological tale from the Kalevala concerns Luonnotar the daughter of nature and her desperately weary and lonely existence wandering through the heavens. Sir Colin with a sure pulse maintains a sense of the unearthly with the writing providing hypnotically vacillating streams of light and shade. There’s lovely consistent singing from the Dresden soprano Ute Selbig displaying a bright high register and a creamy mid-range. I especially enjoyed her resilient projection as she soars splendidly over the orchestral texture of the climax at 6:01-6:14. It’s a shame that full texts are not provided. Several bouts of coughing are audible but nothing too much to spoil the enjoyment.
 
One of the glories of classical music the Schubert Unfinished contains the unmistakable musical fingerprints of the composer’s wonderful gift for lyricism, engaging charm and that distinctive VienneseGemütlichkeit. Recorded in 1992, Sir Colin’s account provides a most satisfying and mainly affectionate reading with the brooding passages of the Allegro moderato containing a sorrowful ache. Emotional weight and intensity create highly effective climaxes tinged with dark foreboding. In the Andante con moto Sir Colin casts a delightful warm-hearted spell over the proceedings. A calm vision of beauty is contrasted convincingly with excitement and drama.

Composed chiefly in the summer of 1883 at the German spa town of Wiesbaden Brahms’s Symphony No. 3 was described by Hans Richter who premièred the score as Brahms’ Eroica. Recorded in 1992, Sir Colin takes a surprisingly robust view of the opening Allegro con brio. In this roistering interpretation it is easy to imagine cool verdant rolling Alpine vistas. The bucolic nature of the writing in the Andante is irresistibly interpreted. In the Poco Allegretto the heart-rending main C minor theme has a feather-light quality. High on polish this is lovely string playing but for the anchoring pizzicato notes on the double basses it feels as if the music would just float away. Sir Colin provides a strong sense of resolve in the vividly scored Finale: Allegro but I was left wanting additional power and excitement in what feels like a rather buttoned-up affair. 

Revered as a Berlioz specialist Sir Colin accumulated numerous awards for his Berlioz recordings. These include two Grammy Awards for the five act Grand opera Les Troyens. It is fitting that the final two discs here accommodate the Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem). Completed in 1837, this remarkable work was a commission for a memorial service in honour those who died in the Revolution of 1830. Berlioz said of the work “If I were threatened with the burning of all my works except one it is for the Requiem that I would ask for mercy.”
 
The score requires massive orchestral and choral forces including a large battery of percussion and offstage brass. When this massive score was premiered at the Cathédrale Saint-Louis des Invalides, Paris there were around four hundred performers. For this stunning 1994 Dresden account Sir Colin uses the combined forces of the Chor der Sächsische Staatsoper Dresden, the Sinfoniechor Dresden and the Singakademie Dresden with the Hawaiian tenor soloist Keith Ikaia-Purdy. I did wonder if the recording actually took place at the Kreuzkirche, Dresden as seen in a picture in the booklet.
 
With considerable concentration Sir Colin, a master of directing large forces, holds everything together well and negotiates confidently through the wide dynamic variations of the score. In the Dies irae the remarkable array of horrifying and awe-inspiring pronouncements of Judgement Day is conveyed by Sir Colin with all the assurance that we have come to expect. The massive battery of timpani, bass drums and tam-tam combine for a thundering storm. Especially enjoyable is the Sanctus with Ikaia-Purdy accompanied by women’s voices giving a moving performance. Bright in tone with a strong projection, the tenor’s vibrato is noticeable but doesn’t detract unduly. 
Congratulations are in order to Profil for selecting these recordings so judiciously. The sound quality, although some audience noise can be heard on occasions, is excellent.
 
A most worthy six disc collection of live recordings that pays homage to the memory of Sir Colin Davis with his cherished Staatskapelle Dresden.
 
Michael Cookson

Masterwork Index
Brahms Symphony 3 ~~ Elgar Symphony 1 ~~ Mendelssohn symphonies ~~ Sibelius Symphony 2

Contents
CD 1
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
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 Scottish (1842) [40:10]
Symphony No. 5 in D minor, Op. 107 Reformation (1829/30) [32:34]
CD 3
JEAN SIBELIUS (1865-1957)
Symphony No. 2 in D major, Op. 43 (1902) [42:49]
En Saga, Op. 9(1892) [19:22]
Luonnotar for soprano and orchestra,Op. 70 (1913) [9:49]
CD 4
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Symphony No. 8 in B minor, D 759 Unfinished (1822) [28:06]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Symphony No. 3 in F major, Op. 90 (1883) [39:10]
CDs 5-6
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869)
Grande Messe des Morts (Requiem), Op. 5 (1837) [88:43]

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