There's something quite endearingly, obstinately 19th-century about Colin Davis's way with Mozart. The great "performance style" re-evaluation might almost never have happened. Davis plays Mozart the way Mozart might have imagined his music would sound had the amplitude of an orchestra such as the London Symphony been a reality for him.
Mozart's Haffner Symphony arrived in a welter of big and sinewy string sound. Davis's way - unfashionable these days - is to make the music sound as rich, beautiful and dramatic as he and his players can. While the leaner, more articulated "period" style achieves a more arresting, even acerbic, effect, Davis's generous note values and big phrasings are unapologetically grand. A more blended sound has the woodwind choir cushioned by well-upholstered strings; old-fashioned ritardandos, somewhat portentously but still elegantly, prepare key cadences: the Age of Enlightenment appears to have been and gone and not found wanting.
This ongoing series has been built around Mozart's piano concertos, and one of the most extraordinary, No 22 in E flat, featured here with the soloist Emanuel Ax at the very top of his form. It was evidently the happiest of partnerships, with Ax and Davis single-mindedly pointing the extravagant and always unexpected nature of the piece with relish.
Mozart ensures that the wind choir hold court here as surely as the keyboard soloist. Indeed, the grave, operatically inflected slow movement seeks to incorporate its very own wind serenade. Paradoxically, this is a work in which period instruments and style just won't do. The writing is so extravagantly "out there", the keyboard so sumptuously deployed, that anything less than Ax and Davis offered here would leave us feeling short-changed.
In Elgar's Enigma Variations, the question could be asked and answered: who better to animate this gallery of English eccentrics than one of their own? It would be an understatement to say that Davis seemed to recognise the composer's "friends pictured within". This heartiest of performances was infused with the spirit of good companionship. Its very Englishness brought a lump to the throat. But I guess you have to be English to know what that means.Reuse content