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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


BARGAIN OF THE MONTH

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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
The Turn of the Screw – opera in 2 Acts (1954)
The Prologue - Philip Langridge, tenor
The Governess - Felicity Lott, soprano
Miles - Sam Pay, treble (young child in her charge)
Flora - Eileen Hulse, soprano (young child in her charge)
Mrs.Grose, the housekeeper - Phyllis Cannan, mezzo-soprano
Quint, a former manservant - Philip Langridge, tenor
Miss Jessel, a former governess - Nadine Secunde, soprano
Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble, Brindisi Quartet/Steuart Bedford.
Recorded in October 1993 in The Concert Hall, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, UK
NAXOS OPERA CLASSICS 8.660109 [2CDs: 53:06+53:17]

This is a reissue of the recording originally marketed on the Collins Classics label some ten years ago. It is wonderful to see it back in the catalogue, not least because it enshrines one of the most memorable operatic characterisations of recent years, that of Peter Quint by the tenor Philip Langridge. As in the Hickox Grimes, Langridge is crucial to the success of the whole venture. Peter Pears, singing on the composer’s own recording, and who of course created the role of Quint, brings his customary insight and musicality to the role. But Pears’ timbre was always wrong for suggesting turbulence or menace – however hard he tries, he somehow can’t quite squeeze the ‘virtue’ out of his voice. Langridge, as those who have seen his Quint on the stage will testify, is a superb vocal actor, who is able to suggest the character’s evil intent, yet never produces anything other than ravishingly beautiful tone. In this respect he is superior to the other distinguished Quint on CD, Robert Tear on Colin Davis’s set for Philips. Langridge could convince you that the Devil does indeed have all the best tunes.

He is matched by the rest of the cast. Felicity Lott, also in fine vocal form, suggests perfectly the anxiety and vulnerability of the Governess. One of the supreme moments of the opera, and a stroke of genius on Britten’s part, is the letter-writing scene in Act 2, where the orchestra, in a near-hysterical interlude, screams out the theme to which the Governess then reads back her letter, with enforced composure. Lott is superb here, as she is in the final scene with Quint and the boy Miles.

The other female parts are all sung with great accomplishment, though I found Phyllis Cannan sometimes a little over-emphatic with the words. On the other hand, she mostly achieves great clarity, which is of huge importance in this fast-moving and intricate plot. Both of the children sing well, though Eileen Hulse has a young woman’s rather than a young girl’s voice.

A major plus is the outstanding instrumental playing. Bedford directs with a confidence and flexibility that comes from deep knowledge of this score in particular and of Britten’s style in general. He is well served by his instrumentalists, who include, in addition to the Brindisi Quartet members, such distinguished names as Jennifer Stinton on flutes, Nick Daniel on oboe and cor, and David Owen Norris on piano and celesta.

The recording captures all these musical riches perfectly, and the production team, headed by John West, have added much in terms of ambience and perspective, without going over the top in any way. As soon as I’d finished listening to this, I immediately wanted to hear it again. That doesn’t often happen with pieces lasting nearly two hours, and it’s a sincere recommendation of what was, for me, an exceptionally powerful musical and dramatic experience.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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