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Britten: Peter Grimes / Wigglesworth, Griffey, Tierney, Page, Gorton

Britten / Griffey / Tierney / Lpo / Wigglesworth
Release Date: 10/26/2010 
Label:  Glyndebourne Festival Opera   Catalog #: 8-00   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Stafford DeanLinda TuvasSusan GortonVivian Tierney,   ... 
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic OrchestraGlyndebourne Festival Chorus
Number of Discs: 3 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Britten's masterpiece--the greatest English opera since Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and arguably not equaled even by Britten--has done very well on disc. You might say that there are three benchmark recordings (if you can have more than one benchmark). The recent Davis/LSO performance is orchestrally the finest, but his Grimes, Glenn Winslade, is bland; Anthony Rolfe Johnson is marvelous in the title role for Haitink (EMI), but the conductor's dull, poetry-free leadership sinks the boat for me.

The more I hear others, the more ideal Peter Pears sounds: with a vocal line playing directly into his voice's strengths (where other tenors have trouble in the "break" around E, F, and G, he seems to thrive), he still delivers
Read more the most touching "What harbor shelters peace", the dreamiest "Now the great bear...", and the most insane Mad Scene. He makes us feel ashamed to be listening and not helping.

Jon Vickers, of course, is sui generis, dominating "Old Joe has gone fishing" in a terrifying manner and wailing like a wounded beast elsewhere, and Philip Langridge captures a wiry, paranoid awareness that imbues every moment of his reading. Tough acts to follow.

This performance was captured at Glyndebourne in the summer of 2009. American tenor Anthony Dean Griffey has the perfect vocal weight and technique for the part; he can sing with Pears' wistfulness and (almost) Vickers' power. He just may be the most vocally perfect Grimes on disc, and his voice is in pristine condition. He has no trouble with the parts of the role that beat almost all the others--the scene in the hut, for instance, with its soft roundings on high B-flat and long legato--and elsewhere he sings with intelligence. In "What harbor shelters..." he uses the most beautiful portamento, but he's almost too pretty in the "Great Bear" monologue; the repeated Es are soft and girlish.

I don't know what Trevor Nunn's direction was like, but Grimes comes off here as a sort-of nice guy, a lonely, sad, misunderstood man with no real menace or tragic stature, and that undercuts the whole opera. Unless there's something visionary or dangerous about him, the opera will not overwhelm.

Vivian Tierney's Ellen is very sensitive; she feels true empathy for Peter, and the "Embroidery" aria is sung beautifully. But her voice seems a bit small for the part and she is not as secure vocally as some other recorded Ellens. Steven Page's Balstrode sounds younger than most and he has true grit: he's a friend but he's no softie. The Borough's inhabitants are vivid: Hilary Summers' odd voice and demeanor makes Mrs Sedley a treacherous weirdo; John Graham-Hall's noisy Bob Boles is a dangerous drunk; Christopher Maltman's Ned Keene is nasty and sure of himself; Susan Gorton's Auntie is a strong character. And all of the others are just as fine.

Mark Wiggleworth's conducting has remarkable moments: the various threads and textures in the scene at the Boar are clearer and easier to follow than I've ever heard; the slashing of the strings goes straight to the heart in the recitative moments before "We shall be there with him". There's a jollity to the early moments of Act 3 and a mania to the build-ups to the grand hunt-for-Grimes scenes that really catch fire--and the conductor pays attention to Britten's bass lines, always an undercurrent of evil. The Glyndebourne forces play and sing with accuracy and focus. The penultimate scene of the opera is as frightening as it should be.

The recording level is a bit low--you'll have to turn it up. This also robs the show of a certain presence and urgency, although I don't want to blame the engineers for their inability to capture something that isn't there. In brief, this is such a good performance that I'm sorry to have to place it so far down on the list of Grimes recordings. The Pears/Britten is a must for everyone; the Vickers is as well for an entirely different and dramatically valid viewpoint (despite Britten's feelings about it to the contrary). And the Hickox is third. An embarrassment of riches, actually.

--Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

1.
Peter Grimes, Op. 33 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Stafford Dean (Bass), Linda Tuvas (Mezzo Soprano), Susan Gorton (Alto),
Vivian Tierney (Soprano), Anthony Dean Griffey (Tenor), Steven Page (Baritone),
Camilla Tilling (Soprano), John Graham-Hall (Tenor)
Conductor:  Mark Wigglesworth
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Philharmonic Orchestra,  Glyndebourne Festival Chorus
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944-1945; England 
Date of Recording: 2000 
Venue:  Live Glyndebourne Festival 

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