BRITTEN Peter Grimes
It is astonishing how freshly this 27-year-old recording comes up on this digitally remastered transfer to CD. The advance over other carriers is particularly marked on this occasion because Erik Smith, the producer, attempted to suggest a live, stage performance. Now, the movement involved is much more in evidence than on LP, even to the extent—as in the Decca Das Rheingold of similar vintage—of some score-rustling and floor squeaks being heard. What is more important is to have the composer's unsurpassed account of the score so vividly conveyed in the new medium. When the Sir Colin Davis/Philips recording appears on CD, as it surely must, you may hear a greater range of sound, but I don't think it will surpass this issue in sheer theatrical excitement.
Britten is more faithful than Davis to the written note in matters of tempo and articulation, and generally moves with a leaner gait to remind us just what a stroke of genius the whole work is. Maybe Davis plumbs even greater depth of feeling, but often at the cost of forward movement, As for the singers, I was delighted to become re-acquainted with the Borough's characters as delineated here, most of all perhaps with James Pease's hugely sympathetic Balstrode and Sir Geraint Evans's perky Ned Keene. I don't think Claire Watson is quite so moving an Ellen as Heather Harper (for Davis), but her reading is finely sung and more than adequate so far as showing sympathy is concerned. It is good to meet again Owen Brannigan's Swallow, as he created the part in 1945.
And, of course, Sir Peter Pears was the first Grimes. His interpretation is worlds apart from that of Vickers (for Davis), to which we have grown accustomed in recent years on stage. Here is a more poetic, less tortured Peter, but in terms of accurate phrasing and attention to musical detail, there is only one tenor in this role, and he is Pears. I am willing to sacrifice some of Vickers's involvement and rude vigour for Pears's subtler approach, which is also easier to live with in the home.
Returning to the CD aspect, I should emphasize the natural balance achieved here between voice and orchestra, the fact that each of the three CDs holds a single act—a great advantage over LP or cassette—and draw attention to the perceptions of the new essay in the accompanying booklet, by Philip Brett, especially strong on the genesis of the libretto.'