This DVD of the recently issued Britten/Pears mini series recorded by the BBC for television way back in the 1960's and the 70's is for all intents and purposes another resounding success. All four priceless documents were thought lost, but this Idomeneo seems to have had a charmed life more than others. Indeed, three days before the Aldeburgh première, the hall was left in cinders and it is something of a miracle that the television production could actually go ahead. First broadcast in May 1970, critics and viewers alike were unanimous in their praise. Sung in English to a version prepared by Maisie and Evelyn Radford, Mozart's first operatic masterpiece is even more telling. A lot of credit should go to Britten himself, who not only conducted with committed ardour, but also prepared a musical edition all of his own. The staging has a classical dignity and avoids austerity altogether and both Pears and Harper give impressive performances. (Gerald Fenech)
Celebrated tenor Mark Padmore joins the Britten Sinfonia in some of the most beautiful English music for voice and orchestra. The centrepiece is Britten's magical evocation of twilight and nightfall, the 'Serenade' (with Stephen Bell, horn). In Gerald Finzi's war-time cycle 'Dies natalis', the ecstatic mood reflects a child's wide-eyed wonder at the world. Britten's poignant 'Nocturne' completes the programme.
…[an] iconic recording . . . Who but Pears could have intoned "Strange Meeting" with such spectral eeriness? Who has ever matched the furious authority of Fischer-Dieskau's "Be slowly lifted up"? Listening again reminds of just how extraordinary Vishnevskaya's voice was, too: darkly voluptuous with a core of steel. Her anguished cry of "Lacrimosa" has lost none of its visceral power…
This is a fine Testament release taken from the archives of Netherlands Radio and enshrines some magnificent Barbirolli performances in somewhat opaque sound. The Satie Gymnopedie's have a delicate and loving sound that reveal Sir John's deep and intrinsic love for the miniaturistic charm of these enchanting pieces. Britten's 'Sinfonia da Requiem' was another Barbirolli speciality and this is one of many recordings available. However it is intriguing to observe the special attention and alertness that the Concertgebouw players impart to the music that takes on an added grandeur. However it is the Dvořák Seventh that is the real highlight of the disc as it is a version to die for! Sir John handles the music with real imagery and heart-on-sleeve emotion that almost rivals Kertész and Sejna, my other preferred versions in this landmark work.
There are so many excellent recordings of Messiah that the addition of another only further complicates the decision for the listener, but having such an abundance of riches should be no cause for complaint. Hyperion's recording with Stephen Layton leading the choir Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia is not among the flashiest or most star-studded, but it is immensely musically satisfying.