Remembering Colin Davis

By on April 16, 2013

My colleague Dan Walker has remarked about the passing of two giants from the film and entertainment business, and now I feel I must do the same. Sunday Sir Colin Davis passed away at 85 in London. He had a long and remarkable conducting career, heading the Royal Opera House, the BBC Symphony, the London Symphony, guesting for a couple of years in Boston and then New York, in addition to several appointments in Germany. He was enormously respected. The US saw him not enough. I had the pleasure of seeing him a number of times over the course of his long career. I recall particularly three operas with the Royal Opera in residence in LA during the Olympics, early Verdi in London, and last May a concert performance of Weber’s Der Freischutz with the London Symphony in the bowels of the Barbican, a grim venue. He was frail and needed assistance off the podium at the end, but no allowances needed to be made for age once the music-making started.

OCDHe recorded a lot, but was best known for his Berlioz, his Mozart and his Sibelius, all of which which he recorded several time over the years. He was something of a Berlioz specialist, mastering most of his works, included the mega-opera Les Troyens which he recorded twice. His Berlioz was not the most flamboyant. He didn’t keep you on  the edge of your seat the way Charles Munch did, even in the recording studio. But his interpretations were solid, knowing and they moved. He knew how to get what he needed from orchestras. He did not go in for a lot of modern music, except perhaps Michael Tippett and Britten. There was some dabbling with Stravinsky early on. He flirted with Bruckner later. His Brahms was a little chilly. So was his Schubert. His Puccini did not sing out quite the way many Italians would make it. He grew into Elgar whom he confessed he did not particularly like at first. But he was always solid, dependable, fiery when moved and thoroughly professional.


OCD and QueenAt that last outing leading Weber’s rarely staged opera, his love for the music came through. That’s important. He had a sense of humor too. I remember his recording leading the Last Night of the Proms in the 60’s. It was a nerve racking task at best, and he was succeeding the wildly popular Malcolm Sargent in the task. I suspect that sense of humor was important. He was reportedly active up to a few months ago. He served music well and I shall miss him, but he plays on thanks to his recordings.


Curtis Rittenhouse

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