Colin Davis’s 1969 recording remains a landmark event, the first time this grand opera of Meyerbeerian length, spectacular éclat and Wagnerian artistic ambition had found its way complete onto LP. It effectively changed views about Berlioz the opera composer and orchestral genius and has for many remained the yardstick by which all later performances have been judged. Although studio recorded, it was based on the Covent Garden casting of the day – Jon Vickers’s heroic Aeneas and Josephine Veasey’s voluptuous Dido – with a couple of Frenchmen to boost the ranks of lesser Trojans and Carthaginians…
This is a delightful recording from a conductor more closely allied than any other to Berlioz's music. With Berlioz the devil is always in the detail; he was an extraordinary orchestrator and capable of writing unidiomatically for instruments–especially the woodwinds–in order to get exactly the sound he wanted. Or rather, sounds, for the whole texture is made up of many layers. Davis understands this as if by instinct, and draws some beautiful playing from the instrumentalists without ever losing sight of the whole picture. It has been said that the French style of phrasing is all foreplay and no climax: the singers bring this teasing quality to their long, flowing lines but with a charmingly English home-counties blush too. Elsie Moris's light tone is a perfect match for Peter Pears' cool, silvery voice in this respect - and the choir too makes a good full sound without ever getting too heavy. The two discs also include some other gems from the pen of this most idiosyncratic of composers.
Recorded in the mid-1970s with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, this classic cycle of symphonies and tone poems firmly established Sir Colin Davis's reputation as one the greatest Sibelius interpreters. Nearly forty years on and the cycle remains as grand and dynamic as ever.
Elgar’s Violin Concerto has a certain mystique about it independent of the knee-jerk obeisance it has received in the British press. It probably is the longest and most difficult of all Romantic violin concertos, requiring not just great technical facility but great concentration from the soloist and a real partnership of equals with the orchestra. And like all of Elgar’s large orchestral works, it is extremely episodic in construction and liable to fall apart if not handled with a compelling sense of the long line. In reviewing the score while listening to this excellent performance, I was struck by just how fussy Elgar’s indications often are: the constant accelerandos and ritards, and the minute (and impractical) dynamic indications that ask more questions than they sometimes answer. No version, least of all the composer’s own, even attempts to realize them all: it would be impossible without italicizing and sectionalizing the work to death.
As it turns out, Colin Davis hums. He also moans, groans, and sometimes even grunts. In this enormous but intimate super audio CD, the listener can hear Davis' vocal obbligato as he uses any means necessary to convey his vision to the musicians. (…) Even though Davis does hum, anyone who loves Sibelius will have to hear these performances.
Acclaimed for his great recordings of works by Mozart and Berlioz, it is a little surprising that Sir Colin Davis is not equally hailed for his superb renditions of Schubert's symphonies, a repertoire for which this conductor's blending of Classical elegance and Romantic passion is perfectly suited. Previously released as a box set in 1996, this RCA Complete Collection reveals Davis as a masterful interpreter of Schubert's unique uses of symphonic form; and his performances have real momentum and coherence, the two qualities that hold these symphonies together. Davis' sense of trajectory is plainly evident in the first six symphonies, which adhere to Classical models and depend on forward motion and clear structures to convey the unity of their movements. But propulsion is even more critical in the more expansive frameworks of the Symphony No. 8, "Unfinished," and the Symphony No. 9, "The Great".