Colin Davis’s Beethoven, recorded-in-London for Philips, now branded Decca, is handsomely gathered here, with either the BBC Symphony Orchestra (mostly) or the LSO. Symphonies 1-8 (plus a ‘Choral’ Ninth with Bavarian Radio forces), a selection of Overtures, the Five Piano Concertos with Stephen Kovacevich (Bishop when he recorded them), the Violin Concerto (wonderfully regal from Arthur Grumiaux and the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orchestra), the Mass in C and the Missa solemnis.
This is all to the good, but there is a bit of bad – the outer-movement repeats of the Fifth Symphony are missing, just as they were on the first LP publication, a ‘cut’ admitted by Philips in order to squeeze the work onto one thirty-two-minute side (Symphony 8 on the other). Maybe the excised expositions cannot now be located. However, the scale of Sir Colin’s conducting is somewhat diminished, the ‘shortened’ first movement dwarfed by a very spacious eleven-minute Andante con moto (here Adagio); nevertheless, the power and the expressiveness of Davis’s interpretation remain impressive. (The Fifth’s repeats were put straight when he recorded all Nine Symphonies again, this time with Staatskapelle Dresden, also Philips. Otherwise each Symphony in this Eloquence package is expositionally ‘complete’, save, surprisingly, for the ‘Eroica’ – conductor’s choice, or post-production for another vinyl shoe-in?) The Eighth, the LP’s coupling – a score that helped secure music as Davis’s vocation, in Hans Pfitzner’s recording, Sir Colin once told me – is superb: a weightiness leavened by affection and twinkle-in-the-eye humour, such as appreciating that no rit is needed at the end of the first movement; smiles all round.
That Munich had to make this from-London Symphony Cycle complete indicates some awryness: apart from no ‘Choral’ back then, there isn’t a BBCSO Seventh. That went to the LSO, marvellously so and sounding great in this transfer, and was Davis’s second version following a 1961 HMV release with the Royal Philharmonic. In fact, there was no issued First Symphony either, until now – this is its first release if with no audible reason in terms of BBC playing and recorded sound, other than some indulgence and lethargy on the conductor’s part, the second movement especially, for holding it back all these years. Maybe Davis realised soon after the sessions that something sprightlier was needed and dealt his veto card.
There are two tapings of the ‘Pastoral’ Symphony (No.6), an early one (1962) with the LSO, which is a joy (and the coupled Prometheus Overture finds Davis on fire), then a BBCSO account that adds several minutes to what was already unrushed (and, in case you are wondering, the repeat schemes are the same). Apropos to No.1, for the Second Symphony Davis invests greater impetuosity and youthfulness.
I have not listened to everything here (hence the Soundbite tag) … as yet: the Piano Concertos with Kovacevich are tried, trusted and timeless…
… the choral works (LSO & London Symphony Chorus) are for special occasions – especially the Missa solemnis, music that meant so much to Sir Colin – and I look forward to further exploring the riches of this well-presented set, adorned with LP-sleeve artwork, whether known or keenly anticipated. Meanwhile, I went out in a blaze of glory with the Munich ‘Choral’ (DDD), which is compelling from first to last. Eloquence 484 1728 (12 CDs).
For detailed information – dates/venues, artists and more – regarding this release, please click on the following link: