It is lovely to see this performance back in
the catalogues. It was originally issued on Collins Classics COL70302,
back in 1994. Steuart Bedford has an affinity with Britten, and
indeed there is also a DVD of him conducting this opera at the
Schwetzinger Festival in 1990 on Arthaus 100199. That he knows
the score inside out is beyond question. In addition, some well-loved
names grace the cast-list (the instrumental ensemble, also: which
includes the Brindisi String Quartet, Nicholas Daniel plays oboe,
Richard Watkins the horn and David Owen Norris is the pianist,
for example). It is certainly true that this emerges as a combined
effort, with a hyper-sensitive ensemble accompanying a cast that
is obviously ‘inside’ this dark ghost story.
It is hard to imagine the Prologue better, partly
because Owen Norris accompanies so well, but mainly because of
Langridge’s suitability. The vocal line clearly suits his voice
perfectly, and he has no problems projecting every nuance of the
text, each word being given its due weight. Nice that Naxos in
the documentation identify not only the scenes of the opera, but
also the Thema and each Variation. Britten’s method of ensuring
some sort of unity is to use a theme which undergoes a long series
of transformations in accordance with the prevailing dramatic
Felicity Lott is next to set out her strengths,
as she lets her feelings of apprehension be known on ‘The Journey’.
Lott is clear-toned and, most importantly, eminently human. She
has the capacity to be nervous, but also one can hear the capacity
to care. Phyllis Cannan, a perhaps a lesser-known name (she sang
Ines in Sir Colin Davis’ Trovatore on Philips of the early
eighties: she was at Covent Garden at this time). She is well-cast,
as she does sound an appropriately older figure. Her retelling
of the story of Peter Quint in Scene 5/Variation IV (The Window)
is gripping, although her delivery of the line, ‘Dear God, is
there no end to his dreadful ways?’ could certainly be more spine-chilling.
Lott’s and Cannan’s voices work very well together, and this is
nowhere more evident than in the duet in Act 2 (Variation 13,
wherein Miles practises the piano).
The Prologue prepared the way for Langridge’s
Quint, a most convincing assumption of the role. Langridge is
strong, fluid (his legato on the many melismas is superb) and
most convincing. Try Act 2 Scene 5 /Variation XII, where Quint
is urging Miles to steal the letter.
Nadine Secunde’s Miss Jessel is more than a match
for Langridge’s Quint. Secunde has a powerful voice (she is no
stranger to Wagner’s music-dramas) and she is quite superb in
‘her’ scene (Act 2 Scene 3/Variation X, ‘Miss Jessel’), her voice
wonderfully rich. Neither do the children let the production down.
Sam Pay (Miles) is immediately touching in his ‘Malo’ (Act 1 Scene
6/Variation V, ‘The Lesson’); Eileen Hulse as Fllora is of a similar
quality, projecting the innocence of her part well. The two work
well together as a pair.
All in all, then, a bargain. Britten’s own recording
(with Pears) must, of course, remain the one to have (Decca London
425 672-2), but the present Naxos version is highly recommended.
see also review
by Gwyn Parry-Jones