BRITTEN Albert Herring
In reviewing the new Chandos set last month, I intimated that the Bedford recording was due for imminent reissue on Naxos. Here it is, and I have had my favourable impressions of its merits once again confirmed. Vivid as Hickox’s traversal of the score may be, Bedford’s is just that much more alert, crisper. With his long experience of Britten in the theatre, dating back to Death in Venice under the composer’s aegis, his timing carries unique authority and, in better sound than the old Decca set can now offer, he even has the edge over the composer’s obviously definitive reading. Bedford’s players are as much if not more accomplished than Hickox’s, and they are caught in a more immediate, less reverberant acoustic.
As for the singers, in almost every case Bedford’s are the equal of, or superior to, Hickox’s and several surpass Britten’s. For instance, Albert was never one of Peter Pears’s happiest assumptions; Christopher Gillett makes a more credible mother’s boy and does well when he decides to break loose. Where the crucial role of Lady Billows is concerned, Josephine Barstow’s commanding performance may not quite be on a par with Sylvia Fisher for Britten, but the difference is small. I once again enjoyed Susan Gritton’s dotty and cleanly sung Miss Wordsworth (Margaret Ritchie, the role’s creator must have sounded like this), Robert Lloyd’s simpleton of a Budd (as well sung as any, one need hardly add) and Felicity Palmer’s fussy Florence Pike, so enjoying her dismissal of all the candidates for May Queen.
It only remains to laud once again the score’s many delights as regards technical mastery and subtle characterisation, and to suggest you hurry off to enjoy a real bargain.