Albert Herring has had the good luck to be recorded four times without a serious failure among the sets. The best of the lot by a slim margin is the one conducted by Britten himself (Britten: Albert Herring), followed closly by that lead by Stuart Bedford (Albert Herring). Both of these sets have a true sense of true dramatic continuity, and the singers perform in a tight-knit ensemble. There is also an excellent video of the Peter Hall production at Glydebourne cast with a truely unbeatable cast and a great conducter in Bernard Haitink (Britten - Albert Herring / Graham-Hall, Rigby, Opie, Kern, Palmer, Johnson, Gale, Van Allan, Hammond-Stroud, Haitink, Glyndebourne Opera).
This performance, when compared to the two that preceeded it, is fine enough for a casual listen, and I suspect a performance with this cast would be very enjoyable in the theater, but the competition on record is simply too stiff for it to emerge as anything special.
Richard Hickox, usually an excellent Britten conductor, leads a performance that never quite catches fire. Hickox has a fine ear for detail (note the string playing when Sid kisses Nancy in the drunk scene), but on the whole his interpretation suffers next to his predecessor's. He also takes much longer than the other conductors: this set runs about fifteen minutes longer than Britten's, and as a result the comedic pacing is thrown off by the slow tempi and the more dramatic moments seem to drag.
James Gilchrist undertakes the title character, and proves himself an extreamly musical singer. His voice is verybeautiful, he has excellent diction and he has the advantage of sounding as young as the character. He copes with the drama well enough, but he is certainly not Peter Pears, and does not have the former's knack for pathos. The angst of the drunk scene is nowhere as near as effective here as it does sung by Pears of John Graham-Hall, the excellent Albert on the video, or Christopher Gillet for Bedford. But, devil having his due, Gilchrist is the best-sung Albert on record.
Pamela Helen Stephen's Nancy is excellent, as is the Pompous vicar of Alan Opie (the best of all Sids on the Haitink video), but appart from that the cast is really nothing special. Susan Bullock's Lady Billows misses the aristocratic bearing of the character, thus making the Dame sound more like a busy than a real gorgon. Roderick Williams is a very musical Sid, but like Gilchrist suffers in comparison with his Predescessors: Joseph Ward, Gerald Finley and Opie give exemplerary performances that Williams does not match. Robert Tear seems ill at ease and self-concious as the Mayor, and Rebecca Evans is not nearly dotty enough for Miss Wordsworth. Stephen Richardosn fails to mine the arsenal of comic oppertunities that Superentient Budd supplies, and Anne Collins errs on the side of grace, turning in a Mum that borders on dull. Sally Burgess is the unobjectionable Florence Pike.
If you love Albert Herring as Much as I do, this set is worth a listen, but for first time listeners, this is not the way to go.