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Ionarts at Large: Mozart & Elgar with Colin Davis

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Elgar, Symphony No.2, LSO / Sir Colin Davis

Recommended recording:
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Elgar, Symphony No.2, Hallé Orchestra / Mark Elder

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Elgar, Symphony No.2, LPO / Barenboim
On October 24th, Sir Colin Davis visited his former orchestra, the BRSO, for a program of Mozart and Elgar. To see the old master and how the orchestra musicians, many of which still played under him when he was their MD from 1983 until 1993 (succeeding Kubelik, preceding Maazel), played for ‘their’ maestro was a joy.

The Fifth Mozart Violin Concerto with Nikolaj Znaider as soloist was a stately affair, with Znaider not afraid of true pianissimos nor Davis of a determinately old fashioned approach to Mozart. Not the quick virility of Manze (HMU) or the idiosyncratic intensity of Mutter (DG), but an deep, buttery and lavish tone. A sense of eagerness, a radiance on the part of the orchestra was notable from the first notes of the Mozart on, in this performance as lovely as it was uneventful. Casual geniality, of one were kind, was the order of the night – except for the injection of dynamism in the Allegro of the Finale where the cellos got to bounce about and the strings swooshed in and out with gusto. Znaider’s encore of the Sarabande from Bach’s Partita no.1 was welcome but not his last word on the subject.

Sir Colin then played ambassador of British music, treating the Munich crowd, which still adores him, to a Symphony that very few in the audience had ever heard or maybe even heard about. Elgar’s Symphony no.2, op.63 was lovingly shaped and the orchestra keenly followed Davis with the security and precision that one can expect from a radio symphony orchestra even in unfamiliar fare, but with the sense of playing by the seat of their pants retained. This was charming, but not conducive to wrestling structure out of the lovely glob of music that this symphony – especially the first movement – is. From the controlled “Jell-O” feel of the Andante Davis moved to the Allegro molto which carried that noble British spirit (whether it be real or an imagined, clichéd idea that non-Brits have about the fair isle) – and it was carried most movingly under his hands. A better music can’t be imagined to read Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Spirit of Delight” to, which Elgar said explained (but not described) the Symphony he considered (along with The Music Makers and the Violin Concerto) to be his most distinct and dear musical statement.

With good will, a set of sympathetic ears, and a well conducted, well played account, a great symphony can be pealed from this music. Colin Davis and his band held up their end of the bargain, making sure that a prize-worthy account was beamed into the households of those who listened live to this concert on “Bayern 4” radio. Households in a country curiously bereft of Elgar (any British music, really) these days, when it was once the country where Elgar (and Delius, among other British composers) came to fame and recognition before he had either at home. In short, it was a night of successful cultural diplomacy.

Nikolaj Znaider will also play Mozart's fifth violin concerto with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra this week, tonight (October 30, 8 pm) and Friday (October 31, 8 pm), at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall in Baltimore.

Rarely comest though, Spirit of Delight.

Rarely, rarely, comest thou,
Spirit of Delight!
Wherefore hast thou left me now
Many a day and night?
Many a weary night and day
'Tis since thou are fled away.

How shall ever one like me
Win thee back again?
With the joyous and the free
Thou wilt scoff at pain.
Spirit false! thou hast forgot
All but those who need thee not.

As a lizard with the shade
Of a trembling leaf,
Thou with sorrow art dismay'd;
Even the sighs of grief
Reproach thee, that thou art not near,
And reproach thou wilt not hear.

Let me set my mournful ditty
To a merry measure;
Thou wilt never come for pity,
Thou wilt come for pleasure;
Pity then will cut away
Those cruel wings, and thou wilt stay.

I love all that thou lovest,
Spirit of Delight!
The fresh Earth in new leaves dress'd,
And the starry night;
Autumn evening, and the morn
When the golden mists are born.

I love snow, and all the forms
Of the radiant frost;
I love waves, and winds, and storms,
Everything almost
Which is Nature's, and may be
Untainted by man's misery.

I love tranquil solitude,
And such society
As is quiet, wise, and good;
Between thee and me
What difference? but thou dost possess
The things I seek, not love them less.

I love Love--though he has wings,
And like light can flee,
But above all other things,
Spirit, I love thee--
Thou art love and life! Oh come,
Make once more my heart thy home.


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