TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 February 2014
This is a RCA box set and they are renowned for their excellence. For example, the Toscanini RCA complete collection and the Fritz Reiner Chicago Symphony orchestra complete Album collection, set the trend as to how a box set should be presented. This new Sir Colin Davis (1927-2013) set continues this tradition as I shall show.(See my reviews further down). The box is just over half the size of the Toscanini box; all black with wording in white and red. Underneath the reasonably heavy box, are the composers and the works to be played. The lid is slanted, small back and large front, made of tough cardboard, as is the bottom half, which contains another glued in box. The lid can be used to place the CDs you wish to play.
The Sleeves are made of tough cardboard, but will not scratch the CDs. No original pictures on the front of the sleeve. Across the top is a black band, with Colin Davis the complete RCA Legacy. Below the composer, who each have a different coloured name; Khaki for Mozart, Brahms olive green, Sibelius Cobalt blue, is a White front, with the works to be played. Red band at the bottom with CD number.This is very subtle, as was the RCA Verdi Great recording box set,covered in velvet.The tonal values on the Verdi Box set sleeves is an artists dream. On the back of the sleeve the music to be played, wording is in black with track numbers. Along the spine, is the composer, music, orchestra, Davis, plus CD number.The CD's can be pulled out easily. The CDs are white, with Colin Davis in black, red, the complete RCA legacy. CD number and composer, plus music to be played. It is impossible to get lost.
My review has to be written in this manner, to help you the reader, make up your mind one way or the other about buying these box sets. For I am aware, that you might be spending some of your hard earned money. My review is as Mahler once said about his 8th symphony, "it is like the Universe, about everything". But in this case my universe is Colin Davis's box set. However, I do respect those who write reviews in a more traditional way. Why do we do we review? Simply, we love it.
The booklet has thin cardboard, not your usual hard cardboard cover RCA does somtimes provide. Inside is an essay, Sir Colin Davis; the RCA legacy, by Australian Richard Osbourne, who writes about Davis's life and his orchestra's he has conducted, also his views on some composers. Osbourne mentions that Davis was known as the most philosophical of conductors as I shall show. This essay is in English, French and German. No translations in English, or any other language. There is an Index where the CD number is placed, with the composer, track number, orchestra and soloist, if any. One CD was recorded in 1963, the rest is from 1988- 2009. A number of CDs are live. There is no mention anywhere if the CD is Stereo or DDD, most odd. The sound is good; I imagine the CDs have been remastered, but nothing has been stated. Most unlike RCA. They usually do advertise this fact. I am not a tech head, so I cannot explain it in technical language. But I have used my Sennheiser 170 earphones, as well as my Sharp 20 year old digital set.(I refuse to obtain a newer model,for the sound is still amazing with its huge speakers.) The sound is outstanding, I can even hear the different directions the voices and instruments are coming from.
Who was Colin Davis? He was born in the agreeable suburb of Weybridge, London, the fifth of seven children. It was a difficult childhood for him. The First world war had left his father a shattered human being. His eldest brother was killed in the Second world war. Music was a balm for Davis in his troubled teens. He studied the clarinet at London's Royal College of Music. Less technically gifted than some of his fellow students, he found himself not taken seriously because of the depth of his musical passions. He wanted to conduct but was excluded because he could not play the piano. It was a blight on his ambitions. In the end, he learned about conducting by watching Fritz Busch from his seat in the woodwind section of the Glyndebourne festival orchestra. He was not deterred. In 1950, aged 22, he conducted a performance of Mozart's Don Giovanni in Oxford, S. England. Nine years later, he was engaged by Walter Legge to take over from the sick Klemperer. Davis never looked back. For the first 15 years he was angry, but gradually changed after his first marrage failed. His second suceeded. "From an ego manic of the 1960's he became the good natured fellow of the 1990's." said Davis.(Osbourne 2014).
After Solti departed Covent Garden it was decided to appoint Colin Davis in 1971, after three foreigners. John Tooley a patrician operator, saw Davis through some difficult times over his 15 year tenure and difficulties with the Covent Garden board . He was emotional; his conducting of music shows this. Also, a mystic, a intellectual, and self absorbed. Conducting Davis said," is like holding the bird of life in your hand: hold it too tight and it dies, hold it too lightly and it flies away". Mozart he once said "is life itself. The operas are a kind of pre-moral acceptance of human Nature in all its aspects, sewn together with love." Davis became conductor of the Bavarian RSO. However, after the reunification of Germany in 1990 Colin was able to work with the Dresden Staatskapelle. In 1995 the London symphony Orchestra invited Davis to become its principal Conductor. Thus, he had learnt, that when he made music to hang his ego on a peg by the door.
Why he was known as the most philosopical of conductors, could be summed up by this statement in the Gramophone August 2001, when he said "that the most wonderful thing that we know in this Universe is the Earth we live on. Thats how it used to be. The American Indians lived with the seasons and the creatures and everything was meaningful. We've completely lost touch with that. Berlioz reminds us of this in Les Trojan's over and over again, that this amazing process is going on and Nature does not care about us at all"
I will place the CD number, Composer, whether live or not. The music to be played, Soloist, Orchestra, reviews (Penguin guide 1996,2008 and Gramophone year book 2009) and comments with T. I will go across the page to save space. I hope you understand.
(CD 1.) Live. MOZART: (Live ) Eine kleine Nachtmusik, Concerto for Clarinet and orchestra, (live) Serenade No 2 in E flat major . Karl-Heinz Steffens-Clarinet. Symphonie Orchestra des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Both bring the lyrical melodies to the fore. One could say what was written about Jack Brymer and Davis in 1964. " A soft lyricism that is very appealing". So Davis has lost none of his genuine love of Mozart. (CD 2.) (Live) Concerto for Bassoon and orchestra in B flat major. Serenade no 9 Post horn. Eberhard Marschall bassoon. (CD 3) Serenade no 10 Gran Parita. Serenade no 12 Nacht-Musique.Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. (CD 4) MOZART Overtures. Le Nozze di Figaro, Bastien et Bastienne, Der Schauspieldirektor, Lucio Silla, Cosi fan tutte, La Finta giardiniera, Des Entuhrung aus dem serail, Il re pastore, Idomeneo, La Clemenza di Tito, Don Giovanni, Die Zauberflote. Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden. "They are throughly musical and have both drama and warmth, with much felicity of orchestral detail emerging from the superb Dresden Orchestra throughout the programme".
(CD 5-9) MOZART: Concerto for piano and orchestra no 9. 19-27 piano concerto's and orchestra .Alicia de Larrocha (1923 -2009) piano. English Chamber Orchestra. "Larrocha was in her finest form when she made these recordings- and she has a splendid partner in Davis, who provides vital, elegant accompaniments". The series of recording of middle and late Mozart piano concerto's, which Davis made with the great Spanish Pianist "devided opinion. Admirers of the performances point to a quiet understanding of these two fine Mozartians brought to the music after a life time study." The Gramophone stated "the cycle grows in stature with each hearing." I also own the box set of Barenboim complete Piano Concerto's with the ECO. "The sense of spontaneity in Barenboims performance of the Mozart Concerto's is hard to resist". Both cycles are good. One is from a young man's point of view, (Mozart was young when he died) and another from two people with a life time of experience behind them.-T
(CD10 - 14) BRAHMS : Symphony No 1-4. In the No 1 there is an emotional thread running through the entire symphony. In the 4th movement Davis builds up to a swift conclusion. I cannot get the heavy thuds on the drums that Klemperer, brings into his version of the opening of the No 1 out of my mind. The 3rd movement of the 4th symphony's tempi are fast. Davis's Brahms is more in line with Kempe and possibly the new bluray of Thielemann's Brahms symphonies.-T. Variations on a theme by Haydn. Academic festival Overture, Tragic Overture. Piano Concerto No 1 and 2. Violin concerto. Gerhard Oppitz piano, violin Kyoko Takezawa violin. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks.A different view of the concerto's. There is the Classic Curzon piano, Szell cond, piano Concerto No 1-T Von Weber. Konzerstuck for piano and orchestra in F minor opr 79, Concerto for Piano and Orchestra No 1 in C major op 11, Concerto for piano and orchestra no 2 in e-flat major op 32, Polacca brillante op 72. Gerhard Oppitz Symphonieorchestra des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Excellent-T
(CD 16-19) SCHUBERT: Symphony 1-9 Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden. "There is no doubt that Davis's achievement in the first six symphonies will have collectors cherishing this set". Robert Layton noted in the Gramophone when praising the Schubert cycle. "They sound spontaneous and effortlessly natural. We are somehow persuaded that Schubert is brought to life without any intervening human hand, which is exactly as it should be." (CD 20) SCHUMANN: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra. Alicia de Larroacha piano. London symphony orchestra. ELGAR: Concerto for Violin and orchestra. Nikolaj Znaider violin. Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden. (CD 21-23) MAHLER: Symphony No 4. Angela Blasi Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Symphony no 8. Symphony of a Thousand.(Live) Alessandra Marc, Sharon Sweet, Elizabeth Norberg-Schulz soprano. Vesselina Kasarova, Liang Ning, contraltos. Ben Heppener tenor, Sergei Leiferkus baritone, Rene Pape bass. Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Rundfunkchor Berlin, Sud-Chor Stuttgart, Tolzer Knabenchor. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Davis's version of the Mahler 8th symphony is preferable to the Tennstedt studio version, for the conductor has got right into the inner core of this score.Yet let us not forget the Solti version, a classic.-T
(CD 24-30) SIBELIUS: Symphony 1-7. Rakastava, En saga, Kullervo,Lemminkainen Suite, Pohjola's daughter, The Bard. Karelia Suite, The Oceanides, Finlandia, Valse triste, Tapiola, night ride and Sunrise. London Symphony Orchestra. "Davis takes us completely inside the 4th Symphony. it is barely a few bars into the first movement before we realize that we are in a totally different world from most other interpretations. But it is in terms of imaginative insight that Davis scores. The Ist has an excitement and authenticity of feeling that is equally convincing-This is Sibelius conducting of real stature. In Davis's hands the 6th unfolds with freedom and naturalness that are totally convincing. He sees the 2nd as a whole and does not play to the gallery. The 3rd has greater breath and sense of scale then his previous account or any other. One wonders anew at the sheer originality of this piece, and that is, of course the touchstone of a great performance. Davis understands Sibelius as few others-the LSO know this and rise to the occassion. The symphonies are a totally authoritative survey, and all the symphonic poems are of a similar calibre, with the magical account of the Bard, night ride and Sunrise. The Oceanades and a riveting Tapiola stand out." This collection should be at the centre of any representative collection.it certainly outshines the Ashkenazy 7 symphonies which I own.
(CD 31) ELGAR: Symphony No 1 .BBC Orch . RODRIGO: Concierto de Aranjuez. (1964) Julian Bream guitar. Melos Ensemble.(CD 32) ELGAR Concerto for Violin and orchestra. Introduction and allegro for string quartet and string orchestra. Kyoko Takezawa violin. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Davis's Elgar's violin concerto is better than you might think it may be, for the violin concerto certainly displaces more favoured versions. Elgar was much appreciated in Germany before the First world war-T (CD 33) BERLIOZ Overtures. Les Frances-juges, Waverley, King Lear, le carnaval romain,Beatrice et Benedict, Le corsaire, Benvenuto Cellini. Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden. "Reflects Davis's long love affair with music that remains difficult, original, surprising. It's all beautifully done". He was the first to conduct a set of Les Trojans still available today on Phillips with Jon Vickers. Also, a live version of the opera.-T
(CD 34) MOZART: Cosi fan Tutte Ah, scostati...smanie implacabili, che m'agitate, Le Nozze di Figaro. Non so piu cosa son, cosa faccio. Idomeneo Non ho colpa,e mi condanni. Ah, qual gelido orror. Don Giovanni vedrai, carino. Mitridate, re di Ponto. Gia dagli occhi il velo e tolto. Don Giovanni In quali eccess, o Numi. Lucio Silla Il Tenero momento. La Clemenza di Tito Ecco il punto, oh Vitellia. Marcia,Maestoso. Vesselina Kasarova Mezzo-soprano. Sachsische Staatskapelle Dresden. " Being the questing, individual spirit Kasarova is, she can be controversial as she breaks new ground in interpretation. She does nothing by halves. Colin Davis provides the know how of a loving Mozartian." (CD 35) MOZART: Requiem in D minor K 626. Blasi soprano, Lipovsek contralto, hellman tenor, Rootering bass, chor des bayerischen Rundfunks, symphonieorchester des Bayerischen. (CD 36-37) BEETHOVEN: Missa solemnis. Fantasy in C minor for Piano, chorus and orchestra. Luba Orgonasova soprano, Jadwiga Rappe contralto, Helleman tenor, Rottering bass, piano Oppitz, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks, symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Writing of this Missa Solemnis, J.B Steane, author of the Grand Tradition,70 years of singing on record 1900-1970 noted "This is a performance with a vision but it resolutely sets its face against rush.". Davis paces himself and when necessary the tempo becomes swifter. A very good version for it shimmers with emotion. Will now join my other favourites, Toscanni's NBC Symphony orchestra 1953 version and Luisi's with the Staatskapelle Dresden, with Nyland, Remmert, Elsner, Pape.(DVD). The fantasy has the main theme from the last movement of the 9th symphony.-T
(CD 38) BRAHMS: Schicksalslied, Rhapsody, Nanie, Gesang der Parzen, 7 Marienlieder. Symphonie orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Nathalie Stutzmann Contralto. (CD 39) BRAHMS: Ein Deutsches Requiem. Blasi soprano, Bryn Terfel, Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Davis captures the emotion perfectly. One of the best performances of this work-T (CD 40-41) VERDI : Missa da Requiem. Vaness soprano, Quivar mezzo, O Neill tenor, Symphonieorchester. Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Davis brings out the operatic effects in this work, and the singers are at one with him. A good performance. but not one that can outshine Toscanni's version with Barbieri, Nelli, Di Stefano, Siepi-T.
(CD 42-44) MOZART: La Nozze di Figaro . Furlanetto, Julia Varady, Helen Donath, Alan Titus, Marilyn Schmiege, Kallsch, Nimsgern, Zednik, Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Davis's conducting of this Mozart opera is a marvel, with singers in tune with this composer.-T (47-48) VERDI: Falstaff. Panerai, Titus, Lopardo, de Palma, Sweet, Julie Kaufmann, Marilyn Horne. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. Davis is a first class Verdian conductor. His tempi are swift as they must be in Falstaff. You can tell he loves this opera. The cast suits his concept and are good. This version has now joined my copy of the Van Karajan's version, with Gobbi, Schwarzkopf, Moffo and Panerai, who is Falstaff in this Davis rendition.-T (CD 49-51) WAGNER: Lohengrin. Rootering, Heppener, Sweet, Leiferkus, Eva Marton, Terfel. Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks. "Davis stands out both for the refinement and spaciousness of the reading. Heldentenor Heppner's singing is beautiful. Leiferkus makes Telramund more of a villian then usual. Rootering as the King and Terfel as the Herald both full and firm. Sweet has her lyrical moments", Eva Marton, a dramatic soprano suits the part of Ortrud". It is another look at Lohengrin, which I add to my collection of the the opera. The Kempe version, Vienna Philharmonic,(1964). With Thomas, Grummer, Fischer-Dieskau,Ludwig and Frick. Also, Bayreuth orch conducted by Von Matacic (1959). Konya, Grummer, Crass, Blanc, Gorr Waechter.(from that great box set Wagner's vision.) Leinsdorf conducting the Met Orchestra 1943 (live),with Sved, Varnay, Thorborg, Melchior.-T
This is a box set I will keep returning to again and again, for Davis speaks to me. This is sincere, not spin. For Davis has fulfilled Plato's wish, "know yourself." And the Bhagahad Gita's message, about the war within, which we all face and mainly fail. I will leave the last word to this great philosopical conductor, from Osbourne's essay, "Sibelius wrote his music when Europe was re-examining the old myths in poetry, philosophy, anthropology and psychoanalysis. His voice is unmistakable. Some people still think he's a specialist in the depiction of fine spring mornings but his subject is the vastness of the natural world, mingled with a sense of uneasiness about the unknown. We can share that unease, the more so since the force that runs the sun has finally been given into the hands of Prometheus."
REFERENCES: The Gramophone year book 2002,2009. Lebrecht,N. The Maestro myth. 1997. Pocket books. Osbourne,R. Sir Colin Davis: The RCA legacy. 2014. Sony Classics. Penguin year classical guide books,1996,2008.