Colin Davis isn't bad in Mozart. He's just not notable or in any way memorable. This is surprising, given how wonderful his recordings of the later Haydn symphonies are with the Concertgebouw (once offered on two Philips Duos). In these early 1960s Mozart recordings (Symphonies #25, 29, 32, 39 & 40), we hear run-of-the-mill, uneventful and imminently routine readings, with the LSO on autopilot. The original Philips recording quality, which is surprisingly sub-par, doesn't help. I don't know if this remastering is to fault, or inherent in the original tapes, but the sound is especially poor in the later (1965) readings - gray, airless, 2-dimensional and rather thick and grainy in the lower strings. The sound is slightly better in the earlier (1962) sessions, but more diffuse and lacking presence and color.
Curiously, I heard similar results in Davis's companion Eloquence release (2006) of Symphonies #28, 33, 36 & 38, made with the English Chamber Orchestra in 1962, for L'Oiseau-Lyre. Those readings exhibit the same lack of individuality, combined with almost a ponderousness, and equally poor recorded sound - which is odd, given a different orchestra and a different label. The recording venue is not listed, but presumably a different hall as well.
Back to the current release, some redeeming merit might have been attained with the two flute concertos on disc one. But, unfortunately, the choice of flutist couldn't have been worse. Hubert Barwahser (whom I've never heard of before, but discover he was at one time the principal flute of the Concertgebouw Orchestra) produces - without doubt - the worst flute tone I've ever encountered in a major label release. It is shockingly unfocused and breathy, lacking breath support, and completely devoid of sparkle. I say without any sarcasm at all, this sounds like a junior-high-school flautist struggling to produce a tone on an old beginner Bundy. His low Ds in the G major, for example, are nearly inaudible, they are so poorly produced - effused with unfocused breathiness. And throughout, there is not a whit of expression, joy or any life whatsoever in his playing. Why Colin Davis decided this was the soloist of choice is beyond all comprehension. (Surely the principal flutist of the LSO was readily at hand?) Tempos are fine, in an old-fashioned way, and the entire affair, including the recorded sound, is mediocre.
I have encountered several poor releases in recent months from Eloquence. I have come to the conclusion that their well of resources has run dry. And this one is simply abysmal.
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