Anna Patalong (soprano), Benedict Nelson (bass-baritone), Rosie Aldridge (mezzo-soprano), Samuel Sakker (tenor); BBC Symphony Orchestra/Sakari Oramo
Chandos CHSA 5253 115:02 mins (2 discs)
Renewed attention to the long-neglected William Alwyn makes this second studio recording of one of his major operas, composed in 1973-6, especially welcome. The score is intoxicated with waltz rhythms, including distinct echoes of Ravel’s La valse; but Alwyn’s late-Romantic heritage runs deeper, with the impact of Wagner, Strauss, Mahler, Scriabin and Janáček all apparent in the heady mix.
Alwyn’s extensive experience of composing film scores stood him in good stead: his subtly-flavoured orchestral writing intensifies the atmosphere, his sense of pacing is accomplished and there’s psychological depth to the well-constructed libretto – his own, adapted and altered from Strindberg’s dark tale of human destructiveness and perversity (1889), whose plot centres on class and gender conflict taken almost to the level of domestic warfare. Though not all the musical ideas are equally strong, the finely-crafted result possesses undeniable tension and dramatic potency, rising at moments to real romantic sweep while at others registering as overwrought.
Vocally relying almost entirely on the two hugely demanding central roles, the performance itself conveys clear conviction. Anna Patalong sketches in a troubled, vacillating Miss Julie while Benedict Nelson provides a forceful presence as the superficially good-natured valet, Jean – underneath a brutish bully. Rosie Aldridge is spirited as his on/off fiancée Kristin, while Samuel Sakker makes a couple of striking interventions as the devious gamekeeper Ulrik (a character created by Alwyn).
The BBC Symphony Orchestra proves unfailingly adept. Sakari Oramo charts a secure course through the score’s heady, hot-house emotional world.