Now here’s a good Nimbus catch – a really fresh Herring from Denmark
This recording of Albert Herring is of considerable historical interest. By the time Benjamin Britten conducted the Decca studio version in 1964, both he and Peter Pears were finding it difficult to recapture the guileless comic spirit so evident here. Plenty of tenors have been able to suggest Albert’s blithe gormlessness more naturally than Pears, but in September 1949 (two years after the opera’s first performance at Glyndebourne) there was a lightness and flexibility to his voice which could modulate effortlessly into the more dramatic vein the role also calls for.
Nimbus provides a complete version of Eric Crozier’s spick-and-span libretto, which comes as close as any Britten set to being self-sufficient as a performable stage play. Some verbal details get lost in a recording that initially seems to be favouring the pit at the expense of the stage, but ears soon adjust to the balance, and the ensemble’s experience with, and relish for, this tricky score (all but two were members of the Glyndebourne cast) shines out. The line-up includes particularly characterful contributions from Margaret Ritchie and Otakar Kraus, but there are no weak links, and none of the singers sinks into caricature – something which can easily happen in less tightly knit performances. Britten conducts with immense vitality and needle-sharp attention to shifting moods, evoking frequent but never distracting laughter from an attentive audience. He rewards them with a brief speech at the end, quoting Albert’s crucial line: “Thank you very much!”
A 1949 recording of an opera set in 1900 is a period piece twice over, and the cut-glass vowels of Joan Cross and Nancy Evans suggest degrees of gentility that help to highlight the satirical social nuances of the story, and its knife-edge avoidance of mere cosiness. The booklet gives full details of how the original tapes were made, and the CD transfers and edits have been well done. Tape changes lead to two brief gaps in the opera. The second, near the start of Act 2 scene 2, is the more regrettable, but even this can’t honestly be said to damage the special value of this splendid performance.
-- Arnold Whittall, Gramophone [10/2008]