Britten: Peter Grimes

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Britten
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Peter Grimes
PERFORMER: Anthony Rolfe Johnson, Felicity Lott, Thomas Allen, Patricia Payne, Stuart Kale, Stafford Dean, Sarah Walker, Neil Jenkins, Simon Keenlyside, David Wilson-JohnsonROH Chorus & Orchestra/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 7 54832 2 DDD
Peter Grimes seems to lead, on disc at least, a charmed life. Firstly the classic Decca recording (three Felicity Lott a beautifully poised performance

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full-price CDs) directed by Britten himself, with Peter Pears (love or loathe him) inimitable (or perhaps too imitable) in the tide role. Then an electrifying account, fully its equal, from Colin Davis, with Jon Vickers a frightening yet heroic Grimes and Heather Harper a dignified, motherly Ellen Orford (irresistible on two mid-price CDs from Philips). Now comes this new contender from EMI which, if not as distinguished, has much to commend it, including, as with both its predecessors, stunning playing from the ROH Orchestra and a characterful team of supporting village worthies.

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If I have reservations, it’s because this newcomer rarely engages with a vivid enough sense of drama. Bernard Haitink brings symphonic weight to the score, highlighting many textural details (well captured by the EMI engineers) and confirming unconditionally the purely musical excellence of the opera. But the emotional conflicts are not well projected. Anthony Rolfe Johnson’s sweet, affecting Grimes is not convincing either as thug or visionary, nor is Felicity Lett’s poised but less than fully involved Ellen; and Thomas Allen’s somewhat anonymous Balstrode is not on a par with his rumbustious Ned Keene on Philips. Antony Bye