Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is almost, but not quite, the finest recording of Peter Grimes available. On two counts it sweeps the board: first, Colin Davis and the LSO (after a somewhat soft-edged opening scene) give a reading of the score that's simply scorching. All of the big choral scenes, the four sea interludes and passacaglia, and the cataclysmic conclusion to the first act practically explode with intensity. It's a virtuoso performance by any standard, aided in no small degree by the LSO Chorus, which sings with the same commitment and an almost supernatural clarity of diction and attention to the meaning of the words. You can actually make out every layer of music in the "Old Joe" round and the end of Act 1. The "Now is gossip put on
trial" march has real menace, and the hysterical Act 3 cries of "Peter Grimes" are truly terrifying, as they must be.
The sonics add a great deal of impact to the sheer physicality of the performance. As with most Barbican recordings, the acoustic is a touch boxy, and there's no fetishistic attempt to recreate a stage ambiance (thank you, producer James Mallinson), which means that the offstage effects in Act 3 lack something in atmosphere. But there's ample compensation in the fact that Britten's harmonic ingenuity and knack for finding fresh orchestral color by the simplest means seldom have registered with such immediacy. Those listeners very familiar with the score will hear many details in this performance that eluded even the composer's own sensitive ear. To that extent I recommend this set wholeheartedly to anyone who loves the work and can afford more than one version of it.
When it comes to the singers, however, there are some issues that need thrashing out. Janice Watson, the impressive Jenufa on the recent Chandos recording of that opera under Charles Mackerras, knows the role of Ellen Orford very well, since she also sings it on the Chandos recording of this very opera. She's pretty fine either way (particularly in her Act 2 scene and confrontation with Peter), but she sounds even more at ease and sweeter of tone (especially in her opening duet after the inquest scene) on the previous issue. Anthony Michaels-Moore is an appropriately sympathetic Balstrode, and all of the smaller roles are well interpreted, including Jill Grove's aptly self-important Auntie. The two nieces team up well with Grove and Watson in their second-act quartet, which leads very effectively into Davis' devastating account of the passacaglia.
The principal problem lies with Glenn Winslade's assumption of the title role. His is, to put it kindly, a very English tenor, somewhat baritonal in his lower register but quite pinched and strained on high. He croons (and mangles the words) at the climax of "What harbor shelters peace" just before the Act 1 storm interlude, and he just hasn't the power to dominate the ensembles the way he should. That said, his Act 3 mad scene comes off very well (it doesn't actually lie that high), and very touchingly too, with obvious care given the meaning of the words and the sculpting of Peter's various outbursts. But the big solo in Act 2 really is painful. "Go there!" barely gets to the end of the phrase, and "In dreams I've built" can't possibly convey the character's hopes with such a threadbare, unlovely timbre. I find Winslade's approach--which seeks to combine Peter Pears' refinement with some of Jon Vickers' virility--to be completely sympathetic, but it's all done so much better by Philip Langridge on Chandos.
One further consideration enters into the equation: the performance, though quicker overall then either Britten's own or Hickox's (never mind Haitink's EMI snoozefest), spills over onto three CDs, whereas the competition fits neatly onto two. At budget price, this set is still a good deal, but the economics don't weigh quite so heavily in its favor as might have been the case. So, for all of the reasons above, I recommend this set enthusiastically for the wonderful music-making that it contains, and especially for Davis' volcanic and spontaneous view of the score (just for the record, he knocks six minutes off his by no means leisurely Philips recording). Winslade certainly is not terrible; this is just one of those situations where strong competition makes comparison both necessary and inevitable, and the results speak for themselves. I do wish I had seen the concerts, though. Those must have been something!
--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com Read less
Works on This Recording
Peter Grimes, Op. 33 by Benjamin Britten
Glenn Winslade (Tenor),
Janice Watson (Soprano),
Anthony Michaels-Moore (Baritone),
Jill Grove (Alto),
Sally Matthews (Soprano),
Christopher Gillett (Tenor),
James Rutherford (Baritone),
Alison Buchanan (Soprano),
Ryland Davies (Tenor),
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Mezzo Soprano),
Nathan Gunn (Baritone),
Jonathan Lemalu (Baritone)
Sir Colin Davis
London Symphony Orchestra,
London Symphony Chorus
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1944-1945; England
Date of Recording: 01/2004
Venue: Live Barbican Centre, London, England
Notes: Composition written: England (1944 - 1945).
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