BRITTEN Curlew River
Here's another historic Britten recording successfully transferred to CD, hopefully the two subsequent church parables will follow in due course. But Curlew River was the first and the best, perhaps because it captured most completely the composer's fascination with the Japanese Noh play on which it was based. Also, it was an inspired idea to re-locate the action in East Anglia, so one has the clash and intermingling of East and West with an immediacy that reflects the keenness of Britten's response to both.
The recording, produced by John Culshaw, was made in Orford Church, where all three parables had their first performances. (Do I detect an aircraft overhead near the start?) The atmosphere of those unforgettable occasions is preserved. The procession of monks at the beginning and end comes towards us and recedes, just as if we were sitting in a pew.
Peter Pears's performance as the Madwoman is one of his finest and most touching, while John Shirley-Quirk and Bryan Drake are equally authoritative as the Ferryman and Traveller. The voice of the Madwoman's dead son is devoid of the sentimentality that might have been a peril if any treble other than Bruce Webb had sung it, and the inventive and beg proces orchestral score is lously played by such names as Cecil Aronowitz Richard Adeney and James Blades. With the composer and Viola Tunnard directing the performance, it is in a class of its own.'