Britten: Death in Venice

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

LABELS: Chandos
ALBUM TITLE: Britten – Death in Venice
WORKS: Death in Venice
PERFORMER: Philip Langridge, Alan Opie, Michael Chance, BBC Singers, City of London Sinfonia, Richard Hickox
Based on Thomas Mann’s novella of terminal obsession, Benjamin Britten’s last opera comprises an almost ceaseless vocal line for its protagonist, the dying great writer Aschenbach, upon which the various scenes of the action are strung like beads – a line, moreover, intimately wedded to the artistry of Peter Pears. Conducted by Steuart Bedford under Britten’s supervision, the original Decca recording of 1974 would seem pretty irreplaceable. However I feel that this new recording is not so much a potential replacement, but more a complementary account of this disquieting drama.


The Pears/Bedford version tends to emphasise the opera’s elegiac side, enhanced by the recessive ambience of the Snape Maltings. The Chandos, recorded last summer in the Blackheath Concert Halls, is certainly not lacking in depth. But it also has an incisive clarity matching Richard Hickox’s generally more urgent approach to expression and tempo, and the more anguished Aschenbach of Philip Langridge – who though actually older now than Pears was, sounds younger save in the occasional less centred pitch.


His riveting intensity is finely supported by Alan Opie’s increasingly sinister evocation of the succession of characters who convey Aschenbach to his doom; easily a match for John Shirley-Quirk on the Decca set, as is the new Apollo of Michael Chance for that of James Bowman. With the BBC Singers contributing many a vivid bit part and the City of London Sinfonia often outplaying the English Chamber Orchestra, this new version bids fair to become as irreplaceable as the old. Bayan Northcott