Monday, 15 April 2013

Sir Colin Davis - Requiescat in pace

News today that Sir Colin Davis has died at the age of eighty five (see here and here).  I fell in love with Mozart's Mass in C minor after listening to his recording on a CD I borrowed from my local library (a copy of which I now own). He was conducting the London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus.

My fondness for this recording extends beyond the performance to the venue - none other than Westminster Cathedral!  It was the first time I has cause to investigate this intriguing, red brick building, and my appreciation for the Cathedral has continued ever since.  (Classical music enthusiasts might be interested to know that Westminster Cathedral was also the venue for the world premiere recording of the Berlioz Messe Solennelle under the baton of Sir John Eliot Gardiner).  

The Mass in C minor:

The booklet states that the recording was made in February 1971 in Westminster Cathedral "by kind permission of Cardinal Heenan"

Actually, I had cause to reflect on Sir Colin's musical legacy as recently as last weekend.  The superb Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Sydney, performed Handel's Messiah on Saturday night at Holy Name Church in the Sydney suburb of Wahroonga.  In preparation, I listened to a number of Messiah recordings that I have accumulated over the years.  First among them (in the chronology of recording dates) was Sir Colin's legendary 1966 recording with the LSO and Chorus (recorded in the famous Watford Town Hall - by all accounts a fabulous recording venue but in a less than salubrious locale).  The recording (along with that of the Antipodean Mackerras in 1967 with the English Chamber Orchestra) was trail blazing because it dispensed with the gargantuan vocal and instrumental forces that had characterised Handel performances up until that time.  Although Sir Colin (and in a sense Sir Charles) was skeptical about what he regarded as the period instrument "craze", in a sense he precipitated its impact.  

Here is the 1966 Messiah recording on Philips, in full:

Of course, by modern ears, even this recording will sound "dated", but it is still riveting listening.  

I will post shortly on the performance given by the St Mary's Cathedral Choir, who were accompanied by members of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra - suffice it to say (in the interim) that it was a truly splendid performance.  I will also add a few comments about other recordings I have collected over the years (post dating the Davis one).