It's extraordinary that it has taken 33 years for a British cast recording of this iconic masterpiece to appear. As much as I love all the previous recordings on CD and DVD (with the exception of the miscast film), it is fantastic to have at last a reading of the score which isn't hampered by jarring American accents. For once, the Victorian setting feels authentically British, as indeed it should.
However, as other reviewers have stated, the cuts are a serious flaw in what would have otherwise been the first choice Sweeney on disc. As odd as it is to hear nothing from Signor Pirelli, I cannot comprehend why there is no `Greenfinch and Linnet Bird', one of the work's great numbers. Surely this could have been squeezed on? Amongst many other highlights, I sorely miss what is from a musical standpoint the most exquisitely crafted item in the score `The Letter' scene.
Nevertheless, this is a very fine recording. As far as I can tell, a slightly pared down version of the original orchestration is used, and the complex layers of the score are cleanly revealed and sharply defined. Michael Ball is, as one would expect, one of the best sung Sweeneys on disc. There are just so many colours and nuances in his performance. He often courageously reigns in his rich, full throttle vocals in order to acheive subtle dramatic effects. My other favourite Sweeney, George Hearn, sounds somewhat over sung in comparison.
Imelda Staunton provides an intelligent foil without hedging into caricature territory. The only weak link in the cast is Luke Brady as Anthony. His voice is altogether too lightweight and ineffectual to provide the appropriate heft for `Johanna'. As virtuous as he is, there should always be a hint of the rough hewn sailor in the character. There is none here.
Altogether a great effort, which makes it all the more painful that we were given such an incomplete recording.