Better Than the Composer's Own Recording!
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 05/31/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I didn't think I'd ever say this about a Britten opera recording, but we have here a modern performance that surpasses the one Britten conducted and recorded back in the 1950s. In every respect this is superior to the earlier album, with one exception: no one can surpass Peter Pears as the evil Peter Quint. Of course the part was written for him. This is not to say Philip Langridge doesn't do a wonderful job in his own portrayal; I guess I've been so imprinted on the sound of Pears's voice that I had some trouble making the switch. But the rest of the cast is simply superior to the earlier one. And this is particularly true in the case of the little boy, Miles, sung here by Sam Pay; he is sensational and easily outclasses David Hemmings (a not-very-good boy soprano who then grew up to become an actor in movies; remember him in 'Blowup' and as Mordred in 'Camelot'?). Pay's final 'Peter Quint, you devil!' is heart-breaking. Also superior are Felicity Lott as The Governess, Eileen Hulse as Flora, Phyllis Cannan as Mrs Grose, and Nadine Secunde as Miss Jessel. Further, the modern stereo sound replaces a rather harsh monaural recorded sound from the 1950s. This is particularly welcome as regards the orchestral sound; in the original recording the chamber orchestra sounded a bit thin and distant. Here the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble is recorded in clear and lifelike sound. As well as I thought I knew the score, I heard new things in the orchestra that I hadn't known were there. Steuart Bedford, of course, is our reigning Britten specialist. He was a long-time colleague of Britten's, has conducted all of his operas over the years, and was entrusted by the ailing Britten with the première of 'Death in Venice.' This is actually a reissue by Naxos of a 2CD set first published in 1994 by the now-defunct Collins Classics. I'm sorry to say I missed it when it came out but thank goodness Naxos has seen fit to put it out again, as they did Collins's excellent 'Albert Herring' a year or so ago. It, like the recently reissued 'St. Nicholas' cantata, was also conducted by Bedford. One can hope that Bedford's other Collins/Britten CDs, including 'Gloriana,' orchestral music and several song recitals, will be reissued as well. Scott Morrison"