Earlier this month I was reviewing a new CD recording of Britten’s Peter Grimes for Opera Canada (you can read it in the Fall 2020 issue or here). It’s a rather good performance from the Bergen Philharmonic with Stuart Skelton in the title role. In digging into previous recordings while writing that review I came across a 1995 recording with Philip Langridge in the title role. I was familiar with his ENO performance which was brilliant and is captured on DVD but there are serious issues with that recording so I was delighted to be able to have another listen.
The 1996 recording is really excellent. Langridge is a sinewy Grimes who fully captures the two sides of Grimes’ nature as few have done. It’s really well seen in Act 2 Scene 2 where Langridge pivots from a truly dreamy version of the passage that starts “In dreams I’ve built myself some kindlier home” to incandescent anger when he thinks the boy has betrayed him. There are other Grimes who manage this; Skelton and Dean Griffey for example, but none, I think, quite as well as Langridge.
Fortunately here all the other key elements of a top class Grimes are in place. Alan Opie is a Balstrode in the classic manner; less bluff than some but musically and dramatically satisfying. Janice Watson is a young sounding Ellen Orford but she’s sweet toned and sympathetic. All the other solo roles are done well and, crucially, the chorus is excellent. It’s the London Symphony Chorus and they manage to be both fierce and lyrical, whether as a near lynch mob or in the final scene where they sound lovely. I’d put them in the same class as the Met or COC choruses in this piece. Richard Hickox conducts with his own City of London Sinfonia. They provide excellent accompaniment and stellar playing in the interludes.
It’s a Chandos recording made at Blackheath Concert Halls. I’ve never heard a Chandos release that didn’t have really good sound and this is no exception. It’s vivid and dramatic with lots of contrast and realistic balance. The CD comes with a generous booklet including the full text but I can’t imagine anybody needing it. Diction is excellent ac
ross the board. There are still a couple of CD recordings of Peter Grimes I haven’t heard but they involve people I have heard on other recordings or live so I feel pretty confident in giving this top recommendation for a CD recording. For video recordings see here.
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