Britten: Billy Budd

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Benjamin Britten
LABELS: Glyndebourne
ALBUM TITLE: Britten: Billy Budd
WORKS: Billy Budd
PERFORMER: Jacques Imbrailo, John Mark Ainsley, Michael Wallace, John-Owen Miley-Read, Matthew Rose, Richard Mosley-Evans, Peter Gijsbertsen, Iain Peterson, Darren Jeffrey, Phillip Erns, Alasdair Elliot, Toby Girling; The Glyndebourne Chorus; London Philharmonic Orchestra/Mark Elder
CATALOGUE NO: GF0CD 017-10

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I wondered whether Glyndebourne’s Billy Budd, superb on video, would survive so well on CD, where it faces powerful competition headed by Britten’s own recording. In fact, though, I was equally impressed.

The recording sounds intimate, reflecting the claustrophobic setting. Mark Elder and the LPO’s bleakly atmospheric reading isn’t diminished; but it does highlight the voices to good effect. Jacques Imbrailo’s warm baritone and easy diction convey Billy’s enthusiastic good nature without exaggerated heartiness, even if the tough sea-cred isn’t so convincing as Thomas Allen’s.

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Likewise, one misses Phillip Ens’s grey glare as Claggart, but the disembodied voice seems even more subtly nasty in its inflections. John Mark Ainsley’s Vere sounds more tonally intense and emotionally shattered. Iain Paterson and the officers, a roughneck crew rather than Britten’s class caricatures, also stand out; and the chorus must be the liveliest on disc. For all Britten’s virtues, I found this version more compelling. Michael Scott Rohan