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Owen Wingrave


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Audio CD, June 24, 2008
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

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Genre: Classical Music
Media Format: Compact Disk
Rating:
Release Date: 24-JUN-2008

Review

Among the operas, none other has been more in need of revaluation than Owen Wingrave, the BBC-commissioned television opera that turned out to be the composer's penultimate. Richard Hickox's new recording, also the penultimate in Chandos' superb series of the complete Britten operas, has the right stuff to earn this important, masterful work the respect it deserves.

Like the previous installments in Hickox's exemplary Britten opera cycle, the new Owen Wingrave does not supplant the composer-led original recording for Decca, but it adds to it in important ways. Best of all, perhaps, is the assured, deeply idiomatic playing he draws from the City of London Sinfonia. It doesn't outstrip the astonishing sounds Britten got from the English Chamber Orchestra, but the degree to which it assimilates the complex musical vocabulary and syntax of the score and makes it a living, breathing, completely integrated entity makes it clear what vitality there always was in a score that even some of the composer's advocates found diffuse, puzzling and ultimately unconvincing. What it shows, finally, is the extent to which we are finally catching up to Britten.

Where Hickox might have done the Decca original one better would have been to assemble a cast that sounded more the ages of their characters. But fine as they are musically, Peter Coleman-Wright's Owen and James Gilchrist's Lechmere simply don't sound like young men.

Looking past the age factor, it would be pretty hard to top Britten's men. Benjamin Luxon's Owen, John Shirley-Quirk's Coyle, and Pears' Sir Philip Wingrave and second-act Narrator show the artistry of some of the finest singers of the last half of the 20th century, and Hickox's Coleman-Wright, Alan Opie, and Robin Leggate, strong as they are, never quite emerge from their shadows.

The women are a problem on both recordings, and only Janice Watson's Mrs. Coyle is an unqualified success for Hickox. It's hard to imagine a mezzo who could compete with Janet Baker's venom-spitting Kate Julian, but Pamela Helen Stephen, for Hickox, barely seems to try. Even so, this potent new Owen Wingrave focuses fresh attention on a needlessly neglected opera Hickox makes sound great. -- Bay Area Reporter, Tim Pfaff, August 2008

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