Colin Davis remembered

Colin Davis (25 September 1927 – 14 April 2013)

It was remiss of me not to have marked the passing of the great English conductor Colin Davis last month. I was away from my blogging duties and the moment slipt away. My negligence wasn’t for any lack of sadness though. Colin Davis and I shared not just a first name, a county of birth and a birthday but also, in his case to the level of genius, and in mine, amateur obsession, a love of the music of Mozart, Berlioz, Sibelius and Elgar. He was quite simply the greatest English conductor of his generation and a man of enormous moral integrity. I have admired him since first coming across him when he was a regular visiting conductor when I attended the Royal Academy of Music in London on a memorable occasion electrifying the Academy ‘s student orchestra in Elgar’s Introduction and Allegro For Strings. In those days he was one of the the young firebrands of the English musical scene and a new inspiration after the pompous self-agrandisement of the Malcolm Sargent reign at The Last Night Of The Proms. I was similarly inspired by meeting him during the Berlioz centenary year of 1969 when I worked, in a very junior capacity, on a Berlioz edition of the literary quarterly ADAM International Review, the beginning of my life-long love for this, then, severely under-rated composer, the highpoint being Davis’ conducting Berlioz’ epic Les Troyens at the Royal Opera House,  Covent Garden. When, as a schoolboy, I sang in the Brighton Festival Chorus, I not only sung under the baton of William Walton but also, in the same concert, under Colin Davis in Mozart’s short dark-toned Kyrie in D minor K. 341. Even though the Walton Belshazar’s feast was an exciting moment in my life I still remember vividly the passion and beauty encapsulated in Mozart’s under-stated sadness, a Davis speciality. Since those early days, I had many opportunities of hearing Davis conducting in the concert hall. Latterly in his profoundly thoughtful tenure with the London Symphony Orchestra at the Barbican in London where he thrilled me with his complete Sibelius cycle. It was after one of these concerts, in my television days, that I was invited by the sponsors to one of those post-concert drinks events where Colin Davis was the guest of honour. We were introduced and left alone together. He looked tired, bored even, by the duties of being sociable after throwing his soul into the music. I felt guilty that we were forced to make polite conversation so I said what I thought. He had given me more than enough of his time with the wonderful performance of the Sibelius and that I could see he would much rather sit down and recover. He smiled and shook my hand and said a very heart-felt thanks. Later I saw him sitting by himself in the corner of the room. Silent, drained but with that look of melancholy serenity that often haunted his face in his later years. It was the last time I saw him. We are all fortunate that he made so many powerful recordings of all of those above-mentioned composers but also of Haydn and Britten too. There is, however, still a hole where he had always been in my musical life. I suppose it is only appropriate though to mark his passing here with the music of another great Englishman, Edward Elgar:

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