Britten Peter Grimes

Davis returns to grimes with the lso on top form but the competition is formidable

Record and Artist Details

Composer or Director: Benjamin Britten

Genre:

Opera

Label: Decca

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

Stereo
ADD

Catalogue Number: 475 6020DC8

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Peter Grimes Hannelore Bode
Monica Sinclair
Hans Sotin
Hermin Esser
Howard Quilla Croft
Peter Hofmann
Jane Findlay
Benjamin Britten Composer
Owen Brannigan
René Schirrer
Kurt Azesberger
Hans Sotin
Simon Estes
Enzo Sordello
Theo Adam
Klaus Hirte
Gerd Nienstedt
Rudolf Schasching
Derek Lee Ragin
Richard Lewis
Theo Adam
Theo Adam
Theo Adam
James Milligan
Elzbieta Szmytka
Gerd Nienstedt
Hans Sotin
Royal Opera House Orchestra, Covent Garden
Annelies Burmeister
Tom Krause
Elsie Morison
George Baker
Anna Reynolds
Stuart Macintyre
Theo Adam
Wolfgang Windgassen
James King
Benjamin Britten
Birgit Nilsson
Fritz Uhl
Wolfgang Windgassen
Gerd Nienstedt
Karl Ridderbusch
Jean Cox
Gerd Nienstedt
Nigel Robson
Hans Sotin
Birgit Nilsson
Angelo Mercuriali
Gustav Neidlinger
Robert Poulton
Arnold Van Mill
Lidia Nerozzi
Thomas Hampson
Birgit Nilsson
Birgit Nilsson
Wolfgang Windgassen
Angelo Mercuriali
Birgit Nilsson
Gerd Nienstedt
Hans Sotin
Ernst Kozub
Regina Resnik
Angelo Mercuriali
Gerd Nienstedt
Hans Stricker
Royal Opera House Chorus, Covent Garden
Michael Chance
John Aler
Birgit Nilsson
Hans Sotin
Theo Adam
Felicity Lott
Leonie Rysanek
Nancy Argenta
Billy Budd Melchiorre Luise
Renato Bruson
Giacinto Prandelli
Piero de Palma
Cornell MacNeil
Jing Li
Renato Bruson
Mélanie Moussay
Mario Del Monaco
Hilde Gueden
Renata Tebaldi
Melchiorre Luise
Renata Tebaldi
Gianfranco Casarini
Fernando Corena
Fernando Corena
Michele Cazzato
Renata Tebaldi
Piero de Palma
Nell Rankin
Mario Carlin
Piero de Palma
Virgilio Carbonari
London Symphony Orchestra
Mario Carlin
Katia Ricciarelli
Dario Caselli
Piero de Palma
Melchiorre Luise
Marie Basson
Ambrosian Opera Chorus
Piero de Palma
Piero de Palma
Silvio Maionica
Yann Beuron
Piero de Palma
Mario Carlin
Piero de Palma
Piero de Palma
Mario Boriello
Mario Del Monaco
Piero de Palma
Dario Caselli
Renata Tebaldi
Ildebrando Santafe
Giovanni Inghilleri
Raffaele Arié
Katia Ricciarelli
Renato Bruson
Angelo Mercuriali
Renata Tebaldi
Melchiorre Luise
Giorgio Tozzi
Renata Tebaldi
Athos Cesarini
Renato Bruson
Fernando Corena
Renato Bruson
Giovanni Inghilleri
Edio Peruzzi
Fernando Corena
Melchiorre Luise
Angelo Mercuriali
Mario Del Monaco
Fernando Corena
Renata Tebaldi
Fernando Corena
Maurizio Mazzieri
Giorgio Giorgetti
Annick Massis
Giovanni Inghilleri
Guido Fabbris
Angelo Mercuriali
Biancamaria Casoni
Giorgio Lamberti
Renata Tebaldi
Mario Del Monaco
Silvio Maionica
Renata Tebaldi
Silvio Maionica
Melchiorre Luise
Enzo Guagni
Piero de Palma
Armela Fortuna
Benjamin Britten
Mario Del Monaco
Renato Bruson
Karen Perret
Mario Del Monaco
Sophie Ottenwelter
Dario Caselli
Philippe Rouillon
Benjamin Britten Composer
Angeles Gulin
Piero de Palma
Albert Herring John Shirley-Quirk
Owen Brannigan
Peter Pears
Peter Pears
Geoffrey Coleby
Peter Pears
Sylvia Fisher
Iris Kells
John Shirley-Quirk
Owen Brannigan
Jennifer Vyvyan
Peter Pears
Sylvia Fisher
Benjamin Luxon
Michael Langdon
John Shirley-Quirk
John Shirley-Quirk
Peter Pears
Peter Pears
Catherine Wilson
English Chamber Orchestra
Robert Tear
Sheila Rex
David Kelly
David Kelly
Robert Bowman
Owen Brannigan
Jean Watson
David Kelly
Owen Brannigan
Edgar Evans
Geraint Evans
David Bowman
Claire Watson
Peter Pears
Peter Pears
Owen Brannigan
Delme Bryn-Jones
Benjamin Luxon
Benjamin Britten
Gregory Dempsey
John Shirley-Quirk
Sheila Amit
Peter Pears
Nigel Rogers
Benjamin Luxon
Owen Brannigan
Peter Pears
Eric Garrett
John Shirley-Quirk
John Noble
Peter Pears
Janet Baker
Norman Lumsden
Raymond Nilsson
Anne Pashley
Marion Studholme
Owen Brannigan
Nigel Douglas
James Pease
Sylvia Fisher
Peter Pears
Owen Brannigan
Peter Glossop
Sylvia Fisher
Peter Pears
John Lanigan
Peter Pears
Johanna Peters
Owen Brannigan
April Cantelo
Benjamin Luxon
Heather Harper
Peter Pears
David Kelly
Benjamin Britten Composer
Bryan Drake
Lauris Elms
Joseph Ward
Stephen Terry
Owen Wingrave Ira Malaniuk
Regina Resnik
Lieselotte Thomamüller
Benjamin Britten Composer
Ingrid Bjoner
Lise Sorrell
Rita Streich
Maria von Ilosvay
Romuald Tesarowicz
Ira Malaniuk
Wolfgang Windgassen
Wandsworth School Boys' Choir
Aage Haugland
Alfredo Mariotti
Alfredo Mariotti
Regina Resnik
Maria von Ilosvay
Maria von Ilosvay
Mario Machì
Maria von Ilosvay
Hetty Plümacher
Gisela Litz
Jean-Claude Costa
Hermann Uhde
Regina Resnik
Ilya Levinsky
Ira Malaniuk
Margaret Jane Wray
Alfredo Mariotti
Hetty Plümacher
Alfredo Mariotti
Eléna Zaremba
English Chamber Orchestra
Jean Savignol
Olivera Miljakovic
Hanna Schwarz
Wolfgang Windgassen
Gisela Litz
Benjamin Britten
Mario Agnetti
Alan Woodrow
Margaret Price
Werner Hollweg
Júlia Hamari
Anton Diakov
Otto von Rohr
Siegmund Nimsgern
Helmut Krebs
Guillaume Petitot
Grigory Gritziuk
Andréa Snarski
Hetty Plümacher
Kristine Ciesinski
Alfredo Mariotti
Carlos Alvarez
Jean-Pierre Mazaloubaud
Werner Hessenland
Karl Ridderbusch
Johann Tilli
Maria von Ilosvay
Anatoli Kotcherga
James King
Wolfgang Windgassen
Heinz Zednik
Kurt Moll
Maria von Ilosvay
Helen Donath
Maria Ewing
Philip Langridge
Hermann Uhde
José Ochagavia
Alfredo Mariotti
Hermann Uhde
Gisela Litz
Sergei Larin

Composer or Director: Benjamin Britten

Genre:

Opera

Label: Chandos

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

Stereo
DDD

Catalogue Number: CHAN9447/8

Britten: Peter Grimes - Hickox

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Peter Grimes John Connell
Alan Opie
Richard Hickox
John Graham-Hall
Yvonne Barclay
Ameral Gunson
Pamela Helen Stephen
John Fryatt
Janice Watson
Roderick Williams
Benjamin Britten Composer
London Symphony Chorus (amateur)
City of London Sinfonia
Philip Langridge
Matthew Best
Anne Collins

Composer or Director: Benjamin Britten

Genre:

Opera

Label: LSO Live

Media Format: CD or Download

Mastering:

Stereo
DDD

Catalogue Number: LSO0054

Tracks:

Composition Artist Credit
Peter Grimes Glenn Winslade
Colin Davis
Catherine Wyn-Rogers
Jill Grove
James Rutherford
Anthony Michaels-Moore
Ryland Davies
Alison Buchanan
London Symphony Chorus (amateur)
Christopher Gillett
Jonathan Lemalu
Nathan Gunn
London Symphony Orchestra
Janice Watson
Benjamin Britten Composer
Sally Matthews
Whatever version you choose of Peter Grimes, Britten’s operatic masterpiece, you are assured of a dedicated, convincingly executed performance, different as each may be. Listening to comparison upon comparison, I found myself amazed again and again at the composer’s since-unsurpassed genius for structure, content, timing and emotional sympathy. After almost 60 years, the work re-mains the greatest opera of the mid-20th century, probably of the whole century, Elektra and Butterfly perhaps excepted.

Colin Davis’s second recording derives from performances at the Barbican in January that were enthusiastically received on all sides. As far as conductor, chorus and orchestra are concerned, it is a stunning achievement. No other set quite matches it for technical control and overwhelming firepower. As he did for Philips, Davis plays the piece for all it’s worth. There is also a refined clarity to the big and varied ensembles, which merge inevitably into the exposition of the private dramas. The crucial interludes confirm the sovereign reputation of the present LSO, at least when playing for its beloved music director.

So why am I not prepared to hail the recording as ‘Best in Show’? Well, Chandos (as part of its 25th anniversary series) has reissued at mid-price its admired performance, and Decca has brought out a box of four of Britten’s operas conducted by the composer, including the ground-breaking Grimes of 1959. That was produced by the late Erik Smith, the first opera of which he was personally in control, and it wears its 45 years very lightly.

Both the keenly recorded Hickox and the Britten sets, though studio-made, successfully attempt a simulation of a stage production, in the case of the Decca with an imagination not since surpassed. In the Barbican that isn’t technically possible; indeed, in the scene where a service is going on offstage, the Rector and the congregation sound too far away, an effect evidently attempted after the live performances. Similarly, the soloists are too distanced in relation to the chorus and orchestra. Comparisons with the Chandos and Decca sets, which give the principals immediacy, reveal how the LSO issue falls down in that respect.

Few of the principals on the new set, excellent as some of them are, stand up to their predecessors. Crucially, Glenn Winslade’s Grimes, though accurately and well sung, conveys little of the identification with the role of former interpreters. Returning to Peter Pears’s Ur-reading, I was vividly reminded of how closely the role was written to play to his strengths. Nobody else sings it so beautifully and with such astonishing control, and I had forgotten how terrifying he makes the mad scene. In a different, perhaps more modern way, Philip Langridge for Hickox – as Richard Fairman suggested in his ‘Collection’ article (6/03) – thinks himself into the very fibre of Grimes’s being. Every note, every word, carries deep meaning in a way nobody, even Pears, a little too gentlemanly in his delivery, achieves. Jon Vickers, on Davis 1, is, as ever, hors concours – rough-hewn and compelling in every way but, as with his Tristan, not to be copied.

The dissimilarities among the Ellens are not so great. On the, in some ways, unsatisfactory Haitink set, Felicity Lott is possibly the most convincing – as RF put it a ‘caring and beautifully sung’ performance – but Claire Watson for Britten – and here again I agree with RF – has been underrated. The simplicity and under-current of pent-up feelings in her Ellen are most affecting. Janice Watson, for both Hickox and Davis 2, is not far behind, though there are moments when her tone on the new set is not as pure as it might be. Heather Harper (Davis 1) is the most motherly, not inappropriate, and her word painting is singular.

I must be brief on the rest. Anthony Michaels-Moore is a bluff, honest Balstrode but not as characterful as the variously im-pressive James Pease (Britten), Alan Opie (Hickox) and Thomas Allen (Haitink), while the young Allen, on Davis 1, shares the honours as Ned Keane with Britten’s Geraint Evans. Christopher Gillett is an uninteresting Boles on the new version, not possessing the virulence of John Dobson on Davis 1 or the bitter rancour of Raymond Nilsson (Britten). Neither bass is distinguished on the new set; of former interpreters, John Connell (Hickox) is a superbly articulate Swallow, Richard Van Allan (Davis 1) the surest Hobson. The mezzo roles are well served on all sets: standing out is Jean Watson, Britten’s truly contralto Auntie, and Anne Collins’s Mrs Sedley (Hickox). Ryland Davies, on the new set, is, however, my favourite Rector.

While the strikingly powerful LSO forces on Davis 2 demand to be heard, as a whole I would prefer Hickox of modern sets, most of all for Langridge’s Grimes, Britten himself – inevitably perhaps – is still the most perceptive conductor of his own score: everything is timed to perfection, every detail is made part of the whole without exaggeration.

Britten’s conducting is also the best reason to invest in the Decca box (though the presentation is parsimonious in the extreme). In Herring, many singers of the day give formidable performances, but Pears, by 1964, is a bit of an embarrassment as Albert. All-round, Steuart Bedford’s version on Naxos is the one to have. On the other hand, Pears’s dreamy Vere is memorable in Budd, even if in many ways the Hickox version surpasses it.

With Wingrave, there is no audio competitor, but the recent DVD version (ArtHaus, 3/04), conducted by Nagano, is an experience not to be missed.

Gramophone Print

  • Print Edition

From £67/year

Subscribe

The Gramophone Digital Club

  • Digital Edition
  • Digital Archive
  • Reviews Database
  • Events & Offers

From £90/year

Subscribe

Gramophone Reviews

  • Reviews Database

From £67/year

Subscribe

Gramophone Digital Edition

  • Digital Edition
  • Digital Archive

From £67/year

Subscribe

If you are a library, university or other organisation that would be interested in an institutional subscription to Gramophone please click here for further information.