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Britten: Owen Wingrave Op 85 / Hickox, Coleman-Wright, Gilchrist, Watson, Fox, Leggate, et al

Album Summary

>Britten, Benjamin : Owen Wingrave, opera, Op. 85
Performers Conductor Ensemble Composer

Notes & Reviews:

Owen Wingrave was commissioned by BBC Television in 1966 and has been described as something of a Cinderella amongst Britten's operas despite an imaginative and close-knit score. Like its 1954 predecessor, 'The Turn of the Screw', the opera is based on a ghost story by Henry James. This recording follows a recent concert performance at London's Cadogan Hall.

The Telegraph
Richard Hickox's command of the score...banishes once and for all the idea that the work was a mere appendix to the composer's operatic career: its pacifist theme was a central one to Britten's creative being, and he invested the opera with all the musical richness and textural originality of an unrivalled master of the medium, best expressed here in the playing of the City of London Sinfonia, which is wonderfully alive.

The Times
This excellent recording by Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia conjures shimmering life into oft-ignored episodes of brilliant musical characterisation. The stand-out in a first-class cast is James Gilchrist's Lechmere, full of eager innocence, loyalty and vim.

Sunday Times
Hickox and his cast make the strongest possible case for the opera: Peter Coleman-Wright's eloquent, idealistic Owen might seem mature casting, but there are fine cameos from Alan Opie (Owen's tutor), Robin Leggate (the General) and James Gilchrist (Lechmere). Pamela Helen Stephen's Kate is not as bitchy as Janet Baker's, Elizabeth Connell's Miss Wingrave not quite as formidable as Sylvia Fisher's strident, domineering portrait, but both sing well.

BBC Music Magazine
Hickox's excellent cast boasts some supreme exponents. Hickox draws haunting colours and chordings from his City of London Sinfonia, and the recording is flawlessly presented.

Gramophone Magazine
The new set... becomes the first recording in any medium to do the work full musical and dramatic justice. It should also satisfy the curiosity of those who wonder why its devotees hail Wingrave as Britten's greatest completed opera.

Gramophone Classical Music Guide
After experimenting with smaller-scale forms of musical theatre throughout the 1960s, Britten returned to 'grand' opera in Owen Wingrave, based on Henry James's pacifist debate about following the flag or one's conscience. Premiered as a TV commission, Wingrave enjoyed unmerited Cinderella status among Britten's stage works until the recent TV film conducted by Kent Nagano (with Gerald Finley in the title- role - see below) and an innovative stage production by Tim Hopkins at Covent Garden's Linbury Studio in 2007.

Over the years Richard Hickox has used his studio skills to telling effect in the vocal works of Britten. In this new recording following concert performances, Peter Coleman-Wright is most adept at conveying Owen's pain and troubled conscience, the while never giving way to an over-emotionalism untrue to anyone brought up in a soldier's family. Alan Opie, in what is in many ways the beau role of the military tutor Spencer Coyle, achieves both a superb neutrality and an evident empathy with Owen's decision to quit the military life. Robin Leggate avoids caricature (or simple Peter Pears homage) in the small but essential role of the family termagant, General Sir Philip Wingrave. The women are no less characterful, with an especially sympathetic reading of Coyle's wife from Janice Watson.

Throughout Wingrave, Britten's cunning reworking of rhythmic structures and harmonic devices pioneered as early as Peter Grimes reaches a new level of plasticity and sophistication.

The shimmer of orchestral sound - sometimes impressionistic, sometimes Gamelaninfluenced, sometimes wholly percussive - is a still insufficiently appreciated wonder of 1970s operatic writing. The core duets of Coyle/Wingrave, Wingrave/Lechmere and Wingrave/Kate (in which she sets the reluctant soldier the challenge of spending a night alone in the haunted room) are anchored on a sophisticated version of the tonal atonal structures on which Britten had once based The Turn of the Screw. It lends the drama an amazing tensile strength, closely parallel to the Berg operas which Britten wanted to get to know better in the 1930s but was discouraged by his teachers from approaching too closely.

The new set, in Chandos's customary natural comfortable sound, becomes the first recording in any medium to do the work full musical and dramatic justice. It should also satisfy the curiosity of those who wonder why its devotees hail Wingrave as Britten's greatest completed opera.

The Guardian
this recording advances as a good a case for the opera as anyone could reasonably expect. The cast, headed by Peter Coleman-Wright as the haunted, compromised Owen Wingrave, is strong, and the gallery of English eccentrics/grotesques that make up the extended Wingrave family is vividly depicted.


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Works Details

>Britten, Benjamin : Owen Wingrave, opera, Op. 85
  • Performers: Peter Coleman-Wright (Bass); Elizabeth Connell (Soprano); James Gilchrist (Tenor); Robin Leggate (Tenor); Alan Opie; Pamela Stephen (Mezzo Soprano); Sarah Vocal] (Soprano); Janice Watson (Soprano)
  • Conductor: Richard Hickox
  • Ensemble: Tiffin School Boys Chorus
  • Notes: Blackheath Halls, London, England (12/06/2007-12/09/2007)
  • Running Time: 3 min. 22 sec.
  • Period Time: Modern
  • Form: Opera/Operetta
  • Written: 1970