In 1961 and 1963, when these recordings were made in Walthamstow Assembly Hall, Colin Davis (1927-2013) was a couple of decades away from a knighthood but already heading up Sadler’s Wells Opera (later ENO) and forging what would become a lifetime association with the LSO. He was also on the cusp of becoming Chief Conductor of the BBC Symphony Orchestra and music director of the Royal Opera, Covent Garden; and not forgetting later relationships with Bavarian Radio, the Boston Symphony, Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra, New York Philharmonic and Staatskapelle Dresden.
One of Sir Colin’s signature composers was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (I hardly need mention Berlioz and Sibelius as being two others). Included on this Eloquence twofer are several WAM Symphonies – number 25 (K183), with a fiery yet malleably expressive first movement, a wonderfully gracious 29 (K201, which Davis had recorded just a few years previously with Sinfonia of London for World Record Club) that is especially genial yet doesn’t lack for emotional intensity when needed and with a slow movement that blows in from the Elysian Fields, and a No.40 (K550) that is among the most well-judged in this Symphony’s discography, Davis digging into its G-minor unrest, preceded by Symphony 32 (K318), aka Overture in the Italian Style and sometimes considered as being the intended Sinfonia for Zaide, Mozart’s unfinished Singspiel catalogued by Köchel as 344.
There is also a ‘big band’ account of Symphony 39 (K543), a little earnest at times, especially in the Finale, which can be wittier and sparkle more than this – surprising for a musician who so often had a twinkle in his eye when conducting – such as Barbican Hall concerts that included Elgar’s Falstaff, Nielsen Five and Sibelius’s Lemminkäinen Legends. Nevertheless, Mozart’s E-flat Symphony can take the dignity and seriousness Davis bestows upon it; that said the Minuet has a spring in its step and the Trio is distinguished by mellifluous clarinet contributions, presumably from Gervase de Peyer.
Also included are the two Flute Concertos and C-major Andante (K313-315) with Hubert Barwahser (1906-85), for many years a member of the Concertgebouw Orchestra. These seven movements offer numerous delights, such as shapely phrasing, lovely flute timbre and elegant/perky rhythms, as well as attentive accompaniment.
The LSO of the early-sixties responds with alacrity and sensitivity to its then thirty-something conductor (just think, Neville Marriner was probably leading the second violins). It’s good to have these recordings back in circulation, sounding so fresh – three Philips LPs have become two full-length CDs on Eloquence 482 9374.