Stuart Skelton (tenor), Erin Wall (soprano); Roderick Williams (baritone), et al; Bergen Philharmonic/Edward Gardner
Chandos CHSA5250 138:16 mins (2 discs)
The best feature of this new Grimes is the orchestral playing, similar in tempo and character to Britten’s own recording. Where Edward Gardner really scores is the Bergen Philharmonic’s precision, captured in detailed yet natural sound. In the final Act, we clearly hear the ‘Moonlight’ music continue gently into the following scene, the main orchestra’s echoes and interjections to the off-stage dance band subtly suggesting the symbiotic relationship between the coastal community and the sea off which it makes its living.
If only that community sounded more weather seasoned. The well-disciplined chorus sounds as if recruited straight from music college, and Auntie is no mature matron to command even grudging respect from patrons of her pub. More convincing is Catherine Wyn-Rogers as Mrs Sedley, and Roderick Williams, though lyrical, shows enough heft in the pub scene to suggest Balstrode’s authority.
The two leads, Ellen Orford (Erin Wall) and Grimes (Stuart Skelton), start well in the Prologue; but Wall’s voice develops a wobble under pressure and just before ‘let her among you without fault’ overshoots her note by a semitone. Skelton has heft, but too often sounds the brute the villagers assume Grimes to be; one does not quite believe the dreams on which he soliloquises are truly his own – which we surely should, even if we think he’s deluded.
Richard Hickox’s earlier Chandos recording with Philip Langridge as Grimes, or Britten’s own recording with a superb and evidently stage-seasoned cast and chorus, remain the most seaworthy.