Top positive review
7 people found this helpful
unique ; not perfect, but essential
on 26 August 2010
I would accept pretty well everything that 221b and M. Joyce say in their reviews, and perhaps the small imperfections in this presentation might edge a reviewer towards 4 stars instead of 5. But this is the great revitalising post-War English opera, the product of Britten's time in the States and return to Suffolk, drawn back partly by Forster's essay on Crabbe and nostalgia for his roots, and here it is conducted by the composer, the principal role taken by Peter Pears, his closest companion and collaborator, staged by the first Ellen, Joan Cross, and filmed in the Maltings, the concert hall Britten and Pears established as central to their Aldeburgh festival. Really, we are so lucky to have this. It is true that there are occasional problems of ensemble between chorus and orchestra and in the orchestra itself, most notably at the beginning of the 'Morning' interlude, where the strings/woodwind and brass want to play at different tempi. It is true that the confined space at the Maltings is sometimes evident, though actually that could be said to intensify the claustrophobic atmosphere of The Borough. It is true that Sir Peter, a wonderful vocal actor, sometimes cuts a rather strange figure in the role, visually rather than vocally (he has a tendency to move rather stiffly, for example). But there is so, so much that is excellent that I have no wish to carp. No doubt Pears's voice was stronger when he was younger, but there is tremendous pathos and involvement in his performance. The set is good and the movement onstage mostly convincing and, when required, dramatic. We can of course be confident that Britten's approach to the score is authoritative, and in fact he was an excellent conductor, so much so that I wonder whether the small blemishes arose from difficulties within the orchestra of hearing clearly in the space - but of course I don't know. Overall, it is a vivid and dramatic presentation. I do find the recording a bit bass-heavy (in particular the timpani are rather 'boomy'). But from the first moment to the last, the production draws you in ; it's riveting. 4 stars? - no, it's 5 ; for all its minor frailties, this is a just production of a masterpiece, a very moving link with the past.