“Yet again Sir Colin Davis demonstrates his mastery as a Berlioz interpreter. It's fascinating to compare this latest version of Harold en Italie with his 1975 Philips version with Nobuko Imai as soloist, and the 1962 HMV one, no longer available, with Yehudi Menuhin.
Most noticeable is the extra tautness of Davis's interpretation, with speeds consistently faster, sometimes markedly so. The textures are sparer, sharper and lighter, bringing an extra incisiveness all round. The soloist, the magnificent Tabea Zimmermann, is balanced as part of the orchestra instead of being spotlit. The beauty of her tone, with its nut-brown colours on the C-string, is never masked, but at the other end of the spectrum the balance allows pianissimos of a delicacy never achieved by the excellent Nobuko Imai, even though she may well have been playing just as quietly, or by the relaxed and rich-toned Menuhin, who prefers lyrical expansion to urgency.
The fierceness of the Allegros, with their quirky bursts of high dynamic contrasts, is enhanced on the new disc. The first movement, 'Harold in the Mountains', is markedly faster and tauter this time (some 2'30" shorter than with Menuhin), and the more flowing speed for the second movement, 'Pilgrims' March', establishes the feeling of a procession, with the surprisingly gentle dynamic markings meticulously observed. Though the third movement 'Serenade' the skipping rhythms are infectious, with dotted rhythms sparklingly pointed by the oboists at the start, and the 'Brigands' Orgy' of the finale clearly gains in dramatic flair from the extra incisiveness.
The Ballet Music, taken from Davis's prizewinning LSO Live version of Les troyens makes an atmospheric bonus.”