Britten: Albert Herring

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Collins
WORKS: Albert Herring
PERFORMER: Christopher Gillett, Josephine Barstow, Felicity Palmer, Susan Gritton, Peter Savidge, Stuart Kale, Robert Lloyd, Gerald Finley, Ann Taylor, Della Jones; Northern Sinfonia/Steuart Bedford
CATALOGUE NO: 70422
With its middle-England 1940s humour provoking a nostalgic glow more than a mild chuckle (‘how could they have been so naive in those days?’, one asks), Albert Herring is something of the lovable runt in Britten’s operatic litter. But whatever its relationship to Britten’s complex psychological make-up, it clearly galvanised him into some of his most scintillating and heart-easing music. Britten’s own mid-Sixties recording provides the benchmark, made not with the original 1947 cast but with his current team of English Opera Group stalwarts. Their successors, led by Christopher Gillett’s thoughtful Albert and Felicity Palmer’s characterful Florence Pike, don’t spring to life as vividly – Sheila Rex’s Mum and Owen Brannigan’s Superintendent Budd are dislodgeable in their cameo roles on the older recording – but the sheer quality of singing is just as high, and sympathetically captured by the Collins engineers.

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The chief reason for acquiring this set, though, is the warm, rich playing of the Northern Sinfonia; and for Steuart Bedford, who offers an interpretation that is more than a carbon-copy of the Master’s own, allowing many more of the score’s marvellous details time to breathe and bloom. It may lack the last ounce of sparkle which Britten himself imparted, but for sheer beauty of sound it could hardly be bettered. Antony Bye