Notes and Editorial Reviews
Following the success of his recent performance of the opera at London's Cadagon Hall, the seasoned Britten performer Richard Hickox has committed the composer's rarely recorded 'Owen Wingrave' to disc. Only one rival CD recording is available at present. Commissioned by BBC television in 1966, the work is something of a Cinderella among Britten's operas, despite its imaginative, closely knit score. One possible reason that it was composed for television rather than theatre. Like its 1954 predecessor, 'The Turn of the Scre', 'Owen Wingrave' is based on a ghost story by Henry James. Britten read the story while he was working on 'The Turn of the Screw', and even then conceived the idea of setting it as an opera. The music employs the relatively spare textures that Britten adopted in his later years. After the concert performance, The Guardian wrote: 'Any doubts as to its work, were quashed by this performance, conducted by Richard Hickox, who exposed, often with lethal precision, the moral paradox at the work's centre. In depicting Owen's determination to come out ot his military family as a pacifist, Britten adopts a fiercely anti-war stance: yet the opera also envisions life as a battlefield, where death is often the price for the preservation of integrity. Hickox drew us through the resulting complexities with passionate subtlety. Richocheting brass and clattering timpani delineated both Owen's struggle and the forces of reaction that hem him in, while sensual strings and the sound of Britten's beloved gamelan conveyed the vision of peace that drives Owen on.' The Times commented: 'Hickox and the CLS made every note count, every hiccupping rhythm, each transparent texture. Battle nightmares, sherry being poured: we saw them all, in sound.' A host of wonderful soloists, including Alan Opie, James Gilchrist and Janice Watson, are accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia. Hickox's previous recordings on Chandos of major works by Britten have been tremendously successful, as shown by such accolades as a Gramophone Award for the 'War Requiem' and a Grammy for 'Peter Grimes'. 'Richard Hickox's Chandos version rivals even the composer's own definitive account in its passion and perception, and must now be regarded as first choice...outstanding performances', wrote The Penguin Guide of the 'War Requiem'. With such a Britten expert as Hickox at the helm, this recording is sure to win the composer more converts.