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Britten: A Midsummer Night's Dream / Davis, Mcnair, Asawa, Lloyd, Bostridge


Release Date: 03/13/2012 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001651502  
Composer:  Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Sara ReyBrian AsawaMark TuckerCarl Ferguson,   ... 
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony OrchestraNew London Children's Choir
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
In Stock: Usually ships in 24 hours.  

Notes and Editorial Reviews

To coin a phrase: new version, new perceptions. It is strange how listening in quick succession to the same passage can arrestingly highlight differences of approach. The Philips set is in almost every respect immediate and present, almost to a fault. As compared with the Virgin Classics for Hickox, the voices are advantageously forward, yet there are few if any attempts at suggesting the perspectives you hear on the six-year-old Virgin Classics (made in 1990, issued in 1993), even more on the 30-year-old Decca for the composer, so evocatively directed by John Culshaw. For instance, on Decca, Puck seems to be everywhere, on Virgin he tends to stay in one place. On the new version you are in the front stalls listening to an enjoyable concert Read more – this recording was made in conjunction with a performance at London’s Barbican Hall – with little attempt to simulate a stage.

That may have in some way influenced the often leisurely pacing of Davis’s reading. Everything is heard with great clarity, the sensuousness of Britten’s ravishing score, with all its mysterious harmonies and sonorities, is fully realized, action and reaction among the singers are keenly heard, yet something of the midsummer magic so naturally conjured up under Britten’s direction eludes Davis and his team. On Decca we hear this music fresh-minted, unadorned; in Davis’s hands the work is viewed through a tougher, more modern prism, something that those who know the original set will need to become accustomed to.

One wonders if any members of the LSO today were in the orchestra under the composer back in 1966: they are certainly as acute if not more so in their playing than their predecessors. As for pacing, if you try either Oberon’s “I know a bank” or Tytania’s solo “Come, now a roundel and a fairy song” you will immediately hear how much tauter is Britten’s approach, Davis allowing his singers more licence. In the case of McNair this gives her space to develop what is a knowingly sophisticated approach to her role, even more evident in her sensual account of the Act 2 solo “Hail, mortal, hail”. Her singing is in itself lovely, portamento used to suggest sensuality, but it is an earthly reading where Elizabeth Harwood for Britten suggests a more other-worldly Queen of the Fairies.

Similarly the luscious, vibrant voice of the American countertenor Brian Asawa is very different from Bowman’s more acerbic tone (Hickox), or Deller’s ethereal delicacies (Britten). Like McNair’s singing, Asawa’s, taken on its own terms, is most seductive, certainly a new look at the familiar, but disconcerting at first hearing. Puck is also upfront, not so much puckish as rough-hewn.

With Bottom we meet another thought-provoking interpretation. Lloyd makes the weaver sound more high-born than his predecessors. This is almost a noble craftsman, with no hint of the rustic portrayed by Donald Maxwell (Hickox), or – unforgettably – by Owen Brannigan, the role’s creator (Britten), who savours the text so lovingly. Lloyd scores with his splendidly resonant account of “O grin-look’d night” in the play. One thing is sure: there has never been a more amusing Flute than Ian Bostridge (hilarious as Thisbe) or a better sung Quince than Gwynne Howell.

Another plus for the new set is the casting of the lovers with young singers in their early prime, a great advance on the Hickox set, a smaller one on the Britten. In particular, Philogene’s ripe mezzo as Hermia and Ainsley’s ardent tenor as Lysander stand out as ideal interpretations. The Quarrel and Reconciliation Quartets are done with total conviction on all sides. Neither Hippolyta nor Theseus matches the regal authority of Helen Watts and Shirley-Quirk on the composer’s set.

I derived a great deal of pleasure from the newcomer with its exemplary recording, in terms of forward, full-toned sound, and careful preparation on all sides. It replaces the Hickox as my recommendation for a modern set.

-- Alan Blyth, Gramophone [12/1996]
Reviewing original release of this recording
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Works on This Recording

1.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op. 64 by Benjamin Britten
Performer:  Sara Rey (Soprano), Brian Asawa (Countertenor), Mark Tucker (Tenor),
Carl Ferguson (Spoken Vocals), Ian Bostridge (Tenor), David Newman (Treble),
John Mark Ainsley (Tenor), Paul Whelan (Baritone), Brian Bannatyne-Scott (Bass),
Hilary Summers (Alto), Gwynne Howell (Bass), Stephen Richardson (Bass),
Sylvia McNair (Soprano), Robert Lloyd (Bass), Neal Davies (Baritone),
Claudia Conway (Soprano), Matthew Long (Treble), Ruby Philogene (Mezzo Soprano),
Janice Watson (Soprano)
Conductor:  Sir Colin Davis
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  New London Children's Choir
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1960; England 
Date of Recording: 12/1995 
Venue:  Barbican Center, London, England 
Length: 148 Minutes 20 Secs. 
Language: English 

Sound Samples

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op.64 / Act 1: "Over hill, over dale"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Oberon is passing fell and wrath"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Well, go thy way"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "How now my love?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Be it on lion, bear, or wolf, or bull"
A Midsummer Night's Dream / Act 1: "Welcome wanderer!"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Is all our company here?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Fair love, you faint with wand'ring in the wood"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Through the forest have I gone"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Stay, though thou kill me, sweet Demetrius"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "Come, now a roundel and a fairy song"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "You spotted snakes with double tongue"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 1: "What thou seest when thou dost wake"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: Introduction: The wood
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "Are we all met?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "I see their knavery"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "Be kind and courteous to this gentleman"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "Hail, mortal, hail!"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "I have a reas'nable good ear in music"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "How now, mad spirit?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "Flower of this purple dye"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "Puppet? Why so?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "This is thy negligence"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "Up and down, up and down"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 2: "On the ground, sleep sound"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "My gentle Robin, see'st thou this sweet sight?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Helena! Hermi! Demetrius! Lysander!"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "When my cue comes, call me"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Have you sent to Bottom's house?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Now, fair Hippolyta"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "If we offend, it is with our good will"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Gentles, perchance you wonder at this show"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "In this same interlude it doth befall"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "O grim-look'd night, O night with hue so black"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "O wall, full often hast thou heard my moans"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "You ladies, you whose gentle hearts do fear"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "This lanthorn doth the horned moon present"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Sweet moon, I thank thee for thy sunny beams"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Asleep, my love?"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Come, your Bergomask"
A Midsummer Night's Dream. Opera in Three Acts, Op.64 - Act 3: "Now the hungry lion roars"

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