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Britten: Peter Grimes / Bedford, Oke, Wyn-rogers, Richardson, Kempster

Britten / Guildhall Chorus / Wyn-rogers
Release Date: 08/27/2013 
Label:  Signum Classics   Catalog #: 348  
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Giselle AllenDavid KempsterAlan OkeCatherine Wyn-Rogers,   ... 
Conductor:  Steuart Bedford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Opera North ChorusGuildhall School ChorusBritten-Pears Orchestra
Number of Discs: 2 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRITTEN Peter Grimes Steuart Bedford, cond; Alan Oke ( Peter Grimes ); Giselle Allen ( Ellen Orford ); David Kempster ( Captain Balstrode ); Gaynor Keeble ( Auntie ); Robert Murray ( Bob Boles ); Henry Waddington ( Swallow ); Charles Rice ( Read more class="ARIAL12i">Ned Keene ); Alexandra Hutton ( First Niece ); Charmian Bedford ( Second Niece ); Stephen Richardson ( Hobson ); Ch of Opera North; Ch of Guildhall School of Music and Drama; Britten-Pears O SIGNUM 348 (2 CDs: 137:19 Text and Translation) Live: Aldeburgh 6/7 & 9/2013

This recording documents the two live concert performances at the 66th Aldeburgh Festival, that preceded by 10 days the six-mile move to the Aldeburgh beach where much of the action of the opera takes place. There, an open-air staged production with prerecorded orchestral accompaniment and the same cast singing was mounted to accommodate the large audiences expected to celebrate founder Benjamin Britten’s 100th birthday. The in situ production worked well, despite concerns for wind and weather, and this CD set has been issued to commemorate the event. It is a fine recording, bracing—at 137 minutes the swiftest Peter Grimes on CD—as if tempered and driven by the North Sea storms that Britten portrayed in it.

Britten’s own recording is, of course, essential, and though 55 years old, John Culshaw’s production is actually more vivid than this new recording, the usually supportive acoustic of the Snape Maltings notwithstanding. Peter Grimes has had a number of excellent recordings, and outstanding proponents in Peter Pears, Jon Vickers, and Philip Langridge in particular. Alan Oke is coming to this role for the first time, and while all of his considerable vocal and histrionic talent are clearly at work, this strikes me as a worthy but not fully finished portrayal of the fisherman, neither enough the tortured dreamer nor unbalanced brute to explain the descent to madness. The tenor’s voice is reminiscent of Pears in this role, and he offers much distinguished singing, especially in the charged handling of the fateful second act confrontation with Ellen. However, other high points, such as the act 3 ravings in the hut and the final mad scene, want for the originating tenor’s nuance.

Giselle Allen is a highly sympathetic Ellen Orford, yet one with enough steel in voice and characterization that she is not just an idealistic victim of Grimes’s obsession. Here is a strong woman who sees worth in this man and is determined to help him realize it, even at great cost to herself. David Kempster is a Captain Balstrode with a core of nobility, born of a commanding, polished baritone voice, to go with his loyalty and practicality. His “Live, and let live” is particularly fine, as are his exchanges with Grimes and Ellen. And in a supporting cast of impressive quality, standouts include mezzo Catherine Wyn-Rogers as a creepily effective Mrs. Sedley—her crisp delivery of the text a particular asset in this—mezzo Gaynor Keeble’s rich-voiced no-nonsense Auntie, bass-baritone Henry Waddington’s pompous self-important Swallow, and the sardonic Ned Keene of baritone Charles Rice.

It is, however, Steuart Bedford’s strong, straight-ahead conducting that defines this performance. Bedford led the 1973 premiere of Death in Venice when Britten could not, and was for many years an artistic director of the Aldeburgh Festival. The Britten specialist’s reading of the score is knowing and dramatic, especially effective in the interludes, though the storm is so hard-driven that his young orchestra is at first hard pressed to stay with him. It also excels in such stirring incidents as the vivid juxtaposition of the church service to Ellen’s conversation with the apprentice, her altercation with Grimes, and the terrifying buildup of the march to Grimes’s hut in act 2. He is somewhat less successful in creating atmosphere and making points with understatement and silence, qualities that distinguish Britten’s own reading.

The Britten-Pears Orchestra, part of the Britten-Pears Young Artist Programme, is comprised of conservatory students and recent graduates. It plays with impressive energy and precision, though not, perhaps, with quite the polish and personality of its professional counterparts in other recordings of this work. The combined choruses of Opera North and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama are accomplished and characterful protagonists in the drama and really quite hair-raising in full cry.

So, should you buy it? If only one Peter Grimes is desired, then it should be Britten’s own on Decca. But if you want more than one view, this would be a valuable alternate, along with the Vickers/Davis on Philips. It is advertised as a limited edition, so whatever that means in this case, it would probably be a good idea to acquire the recording now if you wish a memento of this occasion in your collection.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames
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Works on This Recording

Peter Grimes, Op. 33 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Giselle Allen (Soprano), David Kempster (Baritone), Alan Oke (Baritone),
Catherine Wyn-Rogers (Mezzo Soprano), Gaynor Keeble (Mezzo Soprano), Stephen Richardson (Bass),
Christopher Gillett (Tenor)
Conductor:  Steuart Bedford
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Opera North Chorus,  Guildhall School Chorus,  Britten-Pears Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1944-1945; England 

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