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Britten: Albert Herring


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Biography

Benjamin Britten was born in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in 1913. Although he was already composing vigorously as a child, he nonetheless felt the importance of some solid guidance and in 1928 turned to the composer Frank Bridge; two years later he went to the Royal College of Music in London, studying with Arthur Benjamin, Harold Samuel and John Ireland. While still a student, he wrote his ... Read more in Amazon's Benjamin Britten Store

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Product details

  • Audio CD (12 April 1989)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Decca (UMO)
  • ASIN: B0000041UW
  • Other Editions: MP3 Download
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 279,777 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Disc: 1
1. Act One
2. Act Two (opening)
Disc: 2
1. Act Two (conclusion)
2. Act Three

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Mr. S. Brown on 27 Aug. 2008
Format: Audio CD
"Albert Herring" was the first of Britten's full length operas that I ever bought, when I was 16 and studying "Noye's Fludde" for a school examination; and at the time, this recording (in its original vinyl LP version) was the only one available. The transfer to CD works well enough, I've no problems with that. (I'm not sure what the sleeve picture of Peter Pears and Ben Britten buying vegetables from, I think, Jonah Baggott in Aldeburgh High Street has to do with the opera, but there you go.) However, much as I admire the work of Peter Pears, he is the wrong person for the role of Albert. He sings the role well enough, as one would expect, but he sounds too mature: listening to him in this recording, I could perhaps envisage Albert as being in his mid 30s, but certainly no younger. He fails to come across as a repressed young man firmly under his mother's finger.

That said, I have no other reservations. I would buy this for its historical significance, as a performance conducted by the composer, and because it is genuinely a delightful performance. However, to get the full flavour of the opera, its plot and its humour (which is a bit dated and so needs to be handled with care) I prefer John Graham-Hall's Albert and Alan Opie's Sid in the DVD performance conducted by Bernard Haitink.
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Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
A delight from start to finish. Though full of local colour and atmosphere, it transcends its setting to become a true comic masterpiece to rank with Mozart or Die Meistersinger.

Having shown us the grim side of Aldeburgh life in Peter Grimes, Britten had fun with its parochial aspects in this comic opera, a tale of a mother-dominated shop assistant elected May King because of his virtue, and who is slipped a laced drink at his crowning and goes off for a night on the tiles, after which he asserts himself. For some tastes, it's proved too parochial; some who otherwise admire the composer are repelled by its self-regarding whimsicality. The possible cure for these people is to listen to Britten's own recording, here marvellously transferred to CD and showing again what a genius the producer John Culshaw was.

Britten finds all the humour in the piece, but he gives it a cutting edge and is totally successful in conveying the proximity of comedy to tragedy in the remarkable ensemble where Albert is thought to have been killed. With the English Chamber Orchestra on peak form, all kinds of Bergian echoes in the score are revealed and some, too, of Verdi's Falstaff (Act 3). There's also Peter Pears's brilliant performance as Albert, a genuine piece of perceptive singing-acting. The cast is well nigh ideal. If only Britten had written more comic operas!
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By giorgioprabel on 6 Feb. 2012
Format: Audio CD
i am very satisfayed. the disc conditions are perfect ,the box is in good conditions and the arrival in in the term
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
One of the Greatest Opera Recordings ever made 27 Mar. 2005
By Ted Zoldan - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
There are several contenders for the title of "greatest recording of a major opera: the TOSCA starring Callas and Gobbi, and the all star Guilini recording of DON GIOVANNI; Sir Georg Solti's RING cycle. I have a new contender for the title: This recording of ALBERT HERRING. Not because this is one of the greatest operas ever written; Britten was no Mozart, Strauss or Puccini. It's not even the greatest Opera Britten ever wrote: I rank it below PETER GRIMES. But the Recording has so many strong points and virtually no defects that to ignore it on any list of the greatest opera recordings would be a sin.

The first of many advantages is that this recording has the Composer at the podium. Britten is able to put every subtle emotion and nuance in the score at the listener's disposal. His direction of the singers and the 14 players of the English Chamber Orchestra is a lesson in operatic conducting. Listen to Albert's Drunk Scene through hi-fi headphones or with a good stereo system: you will hear everything the score could and should ever be.

Witch brings me to Albert Himself: Peter Pears. He was in his sixties by the time of this recording, but his voice is in the same glorious shape it was in when he was 30. He paints a picture in words and music of Albert's yearning, shyness and desperation to cut his apron strings. I once again turn to the Drunk scene: he seems genuinely Jovial, confused, and lovesick in the first half, before Nancy and Sid's interruption. Then, at the line "God helps those who help themselves", all the passion, anger and frustration of the character come boiling out in one intense and beautiful moment. The part was of course written for him, and he vocalizes beautifully, but the insight and passion he brings to the performance is unmatched by anyone.

He is surrounded by a supporting cast who are likewise exemplary. Sid and Nancy, Joseph Ward and Catherine Wilson, are wonderful: Wilson brings a sweet, smooth mezzo to the role, painting a perfect aural picture of the young, complicated free sprit Nancy is. Her regret in Act three at her actions is near heartbreaking, and her love duets with Ward are charming. Ward has a youthful-sounding, powerful baritone that is perfect for the impulsive young man. From an interpretive standpoint he is fine: suggesting just enough of thought behind his acts to make him a complicated character. Shelia Rex's Mum works well with what little is given to her: a fussy, overbearing characterization.

Sylvia Fisher is past her vocal prime here. Several high notes are squally and she is sometimes off-pitch. But there is no doubt of who she is: a Dragon lady aristocrat of Wagnerian proportions. Johanna Peters is genuinely funny as her harassed housekeeper and the rest of the village elders are hysterical and gloriously sung. We have April Cantelo's Simpering, befuddled Miss Wordsworth and the Vicar of John Noble, noble and robust almost to the point of parody. Edgar Evans' Mayor is less distinguished but actually funny in act two. Best of all, we have the Budd of the ever-amazing Owen Brannigan: a simple, amiable fellow, but by no means stupid. He shines in the third act: his annoyance with Lady Billows and the rest is very funny, and he actually seems amused by Albert's recounting of his night out. You can almost see the old boy holding back a laugh. The three children are also strong.

One thing that amazes me in this recording is the sense of atmosphere given by the recording engineers. There are small touches, barely noticeable, that give this the feel of a live performance, or even better real happenings. From the scribble of Florence's pen in the opening moments to the whiz of the orange wreath being thrown out in the opera's closing bars, to door slams, gas hisses and footsteps in between, this is like listening to a live performance with your eyes closed. You can even hear Harry when he whispers to be excused by Miss Wordsworth! I never find this intrusive, but others may, so I'm just warning you.

In closing, it is impossible for any other cast, orchestra and composer to reach this level of understanding with the work. Certain individual elements or moments may be bettered (Felicity Palmer is a hysterical Florence on another recording) but the sheer joy, humor and even drama of the set will never be bettered. Opera is all about emotion, and this recording captures every emotion ALBERT HERRING is about.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Still the best version, but with reservations 21 April 2010
By Santa Fe Listener - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
The lead reviewer is so fulsome in his praise that I felt obliged to promote a bit of reason. "Albert Herring" is by no means an acknowledged masterpiece, and one wonders if it can even travel outside Britain. When it premiered at Glyndebourne, the wealthy patron of the opera house, John Christie ""disliked it intensely and is said to have greeted members of the first night audience with the words: 'This isn't our kind of thing, you know'." Also, anyone who expects Peter Pears, in the title role, to sound in late middle age as he did in 1947 will be sorely disappointed. He's not exactly superannuated, as one reviewer claims, but he's not right for the young, timid, somewhat slow but lovable Albert. One understands why Britten could see no one else filling the part, which was written for Pears in 1947, and perhaps for the sake of artistry and authenticity, he made a defensible choice. (There's live performance from 1949 in respectable mono that presents Pears as he should be heard; it features the English Opera Group conducted by Britten, and the audience seems fairly amused -- it's rather amazing, since the locale is Copenhagen.)

The premiere followed upon the triumph of Peter Grimes and is the comic mirror of that opera. It focuses on an odd social misfit, this time comically rather than tragically. Britten closely identified with such characters -- some commentators saw Herring as a disguised self-portrait -- and he gives us a complete provincial society as backdrop in both operas. Eric Crozier, the librettist, was a close Britten collaborator, here transposing a French story by de Maupassant. In the overbearing Lady Billows he attempts an amusing tyrant on the order of Wilde's Lady bracknell, but I find it hard to do more than smile. "Comic" is a relative term, of course, but this one is stilted and prosaic at the same time.

The best part is really Britten's adept scoring for a chamber orchestra of fifteen. His masterpiece in the genre of chamber opera is The Turn of the Screw. If Herring is a kind of dry run, it's complex and carefully wrought. Stylistically, one hears reminiscences of Britten's polyglot style: here a trace of the early cabaret songs, there an echo of Peter Grimes and the Serenade for Tenor, Horn, and Strings. Some might think of this as an English parallel to Strauss's Ariadne, especially the comic prologue. The composer, it goes without saying, was a superb conductor, and one really need look no farther for a better version, unless an age-appropriate hero is absolutely necessary. Each singer draws a sharp portrait of a social type in a small English village. I wish I could say that the overall effect is a kind of operatic comedy on the order of Fielding and Sheridan -- I think that was the aim -- but in truth it takes a first-rate staging to bring out any real comedy; the same could be said of Berlioz's Beatrice and Benedict.

Finally, Decca has released some bargain boxes of Britten's operas, but one must have the libretto, which I don't believe they include. Singing intelligibly in English is notoriously difficult, especially for high female voices. This cast does its best, yet there are long passages and certain singers with blurred pronunciation to the point that the text is lost.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Britten: Albert Herring, Op. 39 16 Jun. 2012
By Bjorn Viberg - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
Britten: Albert Herring, Op. 39 is originally a 1964 Decca Record Company recording under direction of Britten himself as he leads the English Chamber Orchestra. The booklet contains well-written music notes and all the lyrics. The sound quality is truly stupendous and it feels as if one is listening to this in person. Highly recommended. 5/5.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Try it; you might like it!!! 25 Oct. 2010
By Jeffrey Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Audio CD
When I heard that Britten wrote an opera about a young man who becomes Queen of the Maypole or some such nonsense, I immediately categorized Albert Herring as an opera I did not wish to hear.

Well, circumstances conspired against me and I heard the opera despite my best intentions. I found that I was wrong to pre-judge Britten's charming comic opera.

This is a lot of fun. It is not tuneful in the conventional sense, but it has many of the little songs and brief melodic phrases that are typical of Britten as an opera composer.

My favorite Britten opera is Billy Budd, followed by Peter Grimes. For me, nothing else he wrote came close to those two, but I also like to hear A Midsummer Night's Dream and even The Turn of the Screw every once in a while. Now I have added this recording of Albert Herring to my ipod and I like to hear it occasionally as well. It's a piece you can dip into for 15 or 20 minutes at a time with great enjoyment. There is always something beautiful or charming or funny or interesting for your ears! If you wish to sample the opera, try dropping the needle on Act II...some of my favorite moments in the opera.

I haven't heard any of the other recordings of Albert Herring, so I am not trying to be a record reviewer and compare different versions. I just wanted to write a quick review for anyone who has avoided this one as I did for so many years.

Try it; you might like it!!!
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