Sibelius Symphony No 2; En Saga; Luonnotar
Taken from German radio broadcasts, these live recordings give a vivid idea of the impact Sir Colin Davis had on the venerable Dresden Staatskapelle. The Mendelssohn disc is particularly welcome, as this is not repertoire that has figured much in Davis’s discography. His approach is warmly traditional, exploiting the resonance and natural expressiveness of this great orchestra.
Interpretative contrasts with a conductor and orchestra who can be regarded as the custodians of the Mendelssohn tradition, Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus, are more marked. Their approach is cooler at speeds more flowing, particularly in slow movements. With Davis, the start of the Allegro in the first movement of the Scottish Symphony sidles in after the long introduction with a delicacy beyond that of Masur and his team. In the delectable Scherzo Davis’s speed is just as challengingly fast as Masur’s and the articulation of the rapid quaver movement is even clearer. At his relatively broad tempo Davis is wonderfully refined in the Adagio slow movement, with legato phrasing that is deeply persuasive without a hint of sentimentality, and the finale is thrusting.
The performance of the Reformation Symphony has similar qualities, with a hush of expectation in the slow introduction leading up to the first pianissimo statement of the ‘Dresden Amen’ theme, much more mysterious than the more forthright Masur. More controversially, Davis takes the Allegro vivace Scherzo relatively slowly, bringing out charm and delicacy rather than vitality. The brief slow movement is tender and refined, taking more than 80 seconds longer than Masur. Davis’s swaggering finale avoids sounding pompous, as many versions do.
Sibelius is central to Davis and it is fascinating to register the way that the ripe Dresden sound modifies interpretation: he’s faster and smoother than with the LSO in his RCA recording of the symphony. In its extra clarity and directness the LSO version is more authentically Sibelian, but it is good to have such a persuasive and dramatic reading as this. En saga receives a powerfully convincing performance, while Luonnotar benefits greatly from the girlish freshness of soprano Ute Selbig in the haunting vocal solo, though, sadly, the booklet gives neither text nor translation. My only reservation about these well produced discs is that radio recordings of this kind usually come at mid-price; these are at full-price.