Britten: Albert Herring

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Albert Herring
PERFORMER: Christopher Gillett, Josephine Barstow, Felicity Palmer, Robert Lloyd, Peter Savidge, Gerald Finley; Northern Sinfonia/Steuart Bedford
CATALOGUE NO: 8.660107-08 Reissue (1996)
It is unfortunate timing for Chandos that, no sooner has it brought out Richard Hickox’s new recording of Albert Herring (reviewed last month), Naxos scuppers it by reissuing Steuart Bedford’s Collins version (reviewed March 1997) at bargain price. And quite apart from cost, the Bedford recording is superior in virtually every respect. Its cast simply has more personality, from Josephine Barstow, and Felicity Palmer’s double act as Lady Billows and Florence Pike, to Gerald Finley’s swaggering Sid and Della Jones’s domineering Mum. As Albert, Christopher Gillett is the personification of the innocent who revels in his discovery of life beyond the Herrings’ greengrocers.

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The instrumental playing also has more individuality than Hickox’s City of London Sinfonia. The musicians of the Northern Sinfonia treat the score very much as extended chamber music, with the instruments almost as characters in their own right. The recorded sound is atmospheric and expertly balanced. Britten’s mid-Sixties Decca recording is still out there, of course, with its cast of the composer’s hand-picked favourites (Pears, Brannigan, et al), but it does show up the preciousness of the text more obviously. At the new price, there’s no excuse for not having one of Britten’s richest but least appreciated operatic scores in your collection. Matthew Rye