Britten: The Turn of the Screw

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Virgin
WORKS: The Turn of the Screw
PERFORMER: Joan Rodgers, Ian Bostridge, Vivian Tierney; Mahler CO/Daniel Harding
CATALOGUE NO: VCD 5 45521 2
What makes Britten’s opera the most chilling in the repertoire is the level of uncertainty in which it leaves the listener. Like the Governess, we can never be quite sure what is real and what imagined in events at Bly. Paradoxically, this uncertainty is conveyed in the precision with which Britten’s tight musical structure is exposed. From this point of view Daniel Harding’s version, with the same cast (though not the same orchestra) as the revival of Deborah Warner’s Covent Garden production earlier this year, is on a par with any.

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The problem is that too often it sounds disengaged. Ian Bostridge’s Quint pales beside those of Peter Pears (the original) and Philip Langridge (for Steuart Bedford on Collins): there is not enough variety of colour in his reading, though his melismatic wooing of Miles is haunting. Joan Rodgers impresses as a notable Governess – nervous and fluttery, with a sickness of soul from the outset. Vivian Tierney offers a passionate, sensual Miss Jessel. Jane Henschel’s phlegmatic and plain-spoken Mrs Grose is a vivid creation. The children prove skilled in this tricky music, though stronger voices are ideally needed.

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Neither Bedford’s reading nor Colin Davis’s (with Robert Tear and Helen Donath) seems easy to come by at the moment: if it’s a choice between this set and Britten’s original-cast 1955 performance, the latter creates a steadily intensifying atmosphere at once more menacing and more seductive. George Hall