BRITTEN The Turn of the Screw
Each of the 13 instrumentalists in this performance is listed separately in the booklet with a full-page photo and accompanying biography. As these players do not seem to exist as a group, individual names are a necessity, but surely this is how it should always be. Britten wrote for a chamber orchestra of virtuoso soloists and the Polish musicians do not disappoint. Their high-quality playing, with keen ensemble under conductor Łukasz Borowicz, is one of the strengths of this live recording.
The occasion was The Turn of the Screw’s belated Polish premiere in March last year. In many respects it is an impressive offering, imaginatively cast and recorded with a well-judged balance in a warm acoustic – but, as so often with concert performances, the atmosphere is a bit lacking. At the head of the cast Emily Workman makes a successful Governess. Her voice has the shining surface of Britten’s Jennifer Vyvyan, but with extra depth to the sound, and she puts across as many words as other sopranos in the comfort of a recording studio. Diana Montague partners her sympathetically as Mrs Grose. Dominic Lynch’s mild-mannered Miles and Rosie Lomas’s Flora are recorded fairly close, a sensible decision. Although he lacks malign and seductive colours, Eric Barry makes a virtue of his bright, clear singing as Quint. Kathleen Reveille, with her baleful, dark mezzo, is a near-ideal Miss Jessel. At speeds a touch faster than average, Borowicz keeps the opera pressing forwards (the Governess clearly takes the express train to Bly), though the resonant ambience of the Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall takes the edge off Britten’s brilliant instrumental writing.
This new arrival is preferable to its most recent competitor, the live concert performance on LSO Live. For those who are not worried by phantom coughs from the audience, the Glyndebourne set under Edward Gardner boasts an intensity that can only be found on the stage. Among studio recordings, Daniel Harding on Virgin Classics leads a true chamber performance, every detail of Joan Rodgers’s haunted Governess and the Mahler Chamber Orchestra’s cultured playing deftly imagined. Finally, Britten’s own recording, in mono only and sounding rather aged these days, is chillingly atmospheric. With its spheres of action skilfully delineated by the recording engineers, Decca’s 1950s recording is just what one would expect from the golden age of radio.