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Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-76)
The Turn of the Screw (1954).
Philip Langridge (tenor) The Prologue/Quint; Felicity Lott (soprano) Governess; Sam Pay (treble) Miles; Eileen Hulse (soprano) Flora; Phyllis Cannan (mezzo) Mrs Grose; Nadine Secunde (soprano) Miss Jessel
Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble/Steuart Bedford.
Rec. The Concert Hall, Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, UK, in October 1993. DDD
NAXOS 8.660109 [106’23: 53’06 + 53’17]


It is lovely to see this performance back in the catalogues. It was originally issued on Collins Classics COL70302, back in 1994. Steuart Bedford has an affinity with Britten, and indeed there is also a DVD of him conducting this opera at the Schwetzinger Festival in 1990 on Arthaus 100199. That he knows the score inside out is beyond question. In addition, some well-loved names grace the cast-list (the instrumental ensemble, also: which includes the Brindisi String Quartet, Nicholas Daniel plays oboe, Richard Watkins the horn and David Owen Norris is the pianist, for example). It is certainly true that this emerges as a combined effort, with a hyper-sensitive ensemble accompanying a cast that is obviously ‘inside’ this dark ghost story.

It is hard to imagine the Prologue better, partly because Owen Norris accompanies so well, but mainly because of Langridge’s suitability. The vocal line clearly suits his voice perfectly, and he has no problems projecting every nuance of the text, each word being given its due weight. Nice that Naxos in the documentation identify not only the scenes of the opera, but also the Thema and each Variation. Britten’s method of ensuring some sort of unity is to use a theme which undergoes a long series of transformations in accordance with the prevailing dramatic situation.

Felicity Lott is next to set out her strengths, as she lets her feelings of apprehension be known on ‘The Journey’. Lott is clear-toned and, most importantly, eminently human. She has the capacity to be nervous, but also one can hear the capacity to care. Phyllis Cannan, a perhaps a lesser-known name (she sang Ines in Sir Colin Davis’ Trovatore on Philips of the early eighties: she was at Covent Garden at this time). She is well-cast, as she does sound an appropriately older figure. Her retelling of the story of Peter Quint in Scene 5/Variation IV (The Window) is gripping, although her delivery of the line, ‘Dear God, is there no end to his dreadful ways?’ could certainly be more spine-chilling. Lott’s and Cannan’s voices work very well together, and this is nowhere more evident than in the duet in Act 2 (Variation 13, wherein Miles practises the piano).

The Prologue prepared the way for Langridge’s Quint, a most convincing assumption of the role. Langridge is strong, fluid (his legato on the many melismas is superb) and most convincing. Try Act 2 Scene 5 /Variation XII, where Quint is urging Miles to steal the letter.

Nadine Secunde’s Miss Jessel is more than a match for Langridge’s Quint. Secunde has a powerful voice (she is no stranger to Wagner’s music-dramas) and she is quite superb in ‘her’ scene (Act 2 Scene 3/Variation X, ‘Miss Jessel’), her voice wonderfully rich. Neither do the children let the production down. Sam Pay (Miles) is immediately touching in his ‘Malo’ (Act 1 Scene 6/Variation V, ‘The Lesson’); Eileen Hulse as Fllora is of a similar quality, projecting the innocence of her part well. The two work well together as a pair.

All in all, then, a bargain. Britten’s own recording (with Pears) must, of course, remain the one to have (Decca London 425 672-2), but the present Naxos version is highly recommended.

Colin Clarke

see also review by Gwyn Parry-Jones


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