WORKS: Albert Herring
PERFORMER: James Gilchrist, Pamela Helen Stephen, Roderick Williams, Stephen Richardson, Rebecca Evans, Susan Bullock, Alan Opie, Anne Collins, Sally Burgess, Robert Tear; City of London Sinfonia/Richard Hickox
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 10036(2)
By its very nature, comedy is the most difficult genre of opera to bring off in the recording studio, where there’s sometimes an attempt to make up for the lack of visual stimuli by exaggerating the singing. There’s no sense of overacting, however, in this third audio recording of Albert Herring, bar the odd faux upper-class vowel from Susan Bullock’s Lady Billows.
Hickox’s pacing is pleasingly natural, and instead of relying on vocal caricature he lets Britten’s music do the work it does so well, inventively encapsulating character and incident through parody, wit and sleek use of his instrumental ensemble. Yet while nothing goes awry in the singing, there’s an overall lack of personality, for all the wealth of experience from such vintage Britten interpreters as Alan Opie (Vicar), Robert Tear (Mayor) and Anne Howells (Mum). Elsewhere, Bullock’s Lady Billows lacks the vital sense of plumped-up snobbery and Sally Burgess’s Florence Pike the feeling that she is really running the show (some of her words also get lost). Roderick Williams’s Sid sounds a little undercharacterised, too, and Pamela Helen Stephen’s Nancy a tad over-mature for an early-twentysomething. As Albert himself, James Gilchrist at least has the right degree of innocence and, by the end, sense of mischief as he parades his ‘night of experience’ before the shocked gentry.
The recorded sound is exemplary, though as a performance it lacks the indispensability of Hickox’s previous Britten recordings. At least his cycle has got further than Steuart Bedford’s for Collins, whose own Herring is due for reissue by Naxos any time now. Matthew Rye