Sir Colin Davis’ final recording on Society of Sound

Sir Colin Davis was – in many ways – the founding father of LSO Live.

When the decision is made to start a new classical record label you need some element, some inspiration, which will make the new label stand out from all the other labels out there clamouring for attention. LSO Live had a number of unique factors working in its favour at its launch in 2000. The most important of these was the cycle of Berlioz recordings inspired and conducted by Sir Colin, which established the new label in the minds of music lovers the world over as an outstanding new venture in the history of recorded music.

Recordings of all the major Berlioz works were released on LSO Live in the decade that followed the launch, with one exception, the ‘Grande Messe des morts’. The reason for this was that the ‘Requiem’ as it is known in the English speaking world, is an exceptionally difficult piece to perform and record. It is simply too big and too complex for the Barbican Hall and alternative venues with sufficient physical and acoustic space for its huge orchestra, double chorus and four antiphonal brass bands are hard to find. In practice there are only two locations in London able to accommodate it, the Royal Albert Hall and St Paul’s and in 2012 it was the City of London Festival which came to the rescue by promoting two performances in St Paul’s as part of the 2012 Festival.

The challenge for Sir Colin, the LSO and the combined chorus of the LSO and London Philharmonic choir was daunting. Anyone who has ever attended a musical performance in St Paul’s will know that the building has an echo that reverberates on into the middle of next week. But, for Sir Colin, who was 84 at the time of the recording, it was a unique and urgent challenge, as it would finally complete the LSO Berlioz cycle he had lovingly nurtured over the previous decade.

Sir Colin died on the 14th of April this year  and so this extraordinary performance is, perhaps fittingly, his last recording. When I played him the edited master shortly before its release he smiled his famously mischievous and enigmatic smile: ‘not bad for a young one…’ Not bad indeed! He will be sorely missed.

 James Mallinson, LSO Live producer

Berlioz’s Grande Messe des morts is available as a studio-quality download to Society of Sound members now.

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