August 30, 2013 6:04 pm

Britten: War Requiem; Peter Grimes

Two recordings of the composer’s works could hardly be more different in their impact
 

These recordings could hardly be more different in their impact. Peter Grimes, recorded at the opening concerts of this summer’s Aldeburgh festival, receives a reliable performance under Bedford, a conductor well versed in the Britten tradition.

The cast is solid: Alan Oke brings to the title role a Pears-like timbre and a very individual poetic dignity. But these CDs add little to our understanding of an opera that is already formidably well recorded. Its release coincides with the screening in UK cinemas (from September 5) of a film, directed by Margaret Williams, of the same cast performing Grimes in a specially conceived – and, by all accounts, highly atmospheric – staging on the Aldeburgh shore.

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That novel idea of performing Britten’s opera on the very shingle beach where much of the action is located is what set the Bedford Grimes apart from every other interpretation. It seems perverse that Aldeburgh Music didn’t think fit to release this as a DVD.

The McCreesh War Requiem, taped in the studio by combined British and Polish forces, has the presence and intensity of a live cathedral performance: it sets new standards for this strangely moving choral work.

 

The Wroclaw Philharmonic Choir projects the Latin liturgical texts with radiant luminosity, matched by the trebles of the Choir of New College, Oxford, while the three soloists – Susan Gritton, John Mark Ainsley and Christopher Maltman – combine poise and conviction.

McCreesh brings astonishing clarity to the work’s musical syntax: the performance culminates in a transformative “Libera me”. Here is a recording worthy of the Britten centenary.


Britten

War Requiem

Paul McCreesh

(Signum Classics)


Britten

Peter Grimes

Steuart Bedford

(Signum Classics)

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