Recordings > Opera and Oratorio

BRITTEN: The Turn of the Screw

spacer Matthews, Wyn-Rogers, Broderick, Hall; Clayton-Jolly, Kennedy; London Symphony Orchestra, Farnes. English text. LSO 0749 (2)

LSO_TurnScrewCD

Inside the front cover of the score for Britten's Turn of the Screw are listed the nineteen members of the original cast. There are only six singers in the opera, of course, but Britten also deemed the thirteen instrumentalists, each playing his own part, to be soloists as well. In this recording, harpist Bryn Lewis, for example, shows every indication of knowing exactly what is happening onstage at every moment. Susanna Stranders plays the celesta in an appropriately disquieting manner, always an otherworldly intrusion into the orchestral texture rather than a part of it, and her characterization of the piano part in the sixth scene of Act II, in which she inflects everything in the way the precocious but unpolished Miles would play it, is, in its own quiet way, perfection. As it happens, there are four extra musicians in the ensemble, so that the players don't have to observe all of Britten's demanding doublings of instruments, but there is nothing but true operatic music coming from everyone. 

Nor is there a weak link among the cast members, who form a true ensemble. Catherine Wyn-Rogers gives an overstuffed tea cozy of a performance as Mrs. Grose. She nearly steals the show at first, with her warm presence contributing mightily to the way the story is meant to draw us in. Michael Clayton-Jolly is an intriguingly strong Miles, confident and almost defiant. It is as if he alone, from the beginning, knew that he cannot be saved and the Governess will be shattered. Katherine Broderick gives a fully rounded performance as Miss Jessel, fleetly sung when she joins in on Quint's scampering music but so strong in her scene alone with the Governess that this becomes the focal point of the opera. The others — the Governess of Sally Matthews (a bit flutey in softer dynamics), the Quint of Andrew Kennedy (full-voiced and clearly pulling the strings) and the Flora of Lucy Hall — are also excellent. 

The performers truly listen to one another, making chamber music, and for long stretches it is easy to forget that they are being conducted. This is high praise for Richard Farnes. His hand is more noticeable in the larger structures, such as the way the succession of moods in the middle of Act I proceeds from the twitterings of the outdoors through brief intimations of danger at the Governess's first inklings of the supernatural to the mock ritual of the "Tom, Tom the Piper's Son" procession. Farnes does beautifully with Act II, building to a sickening panic in the penultimate scene, so that the final scene, fragmentary and mostly quiet at first, can work with the subtext beneath the initial formality. A word of praise, too, for the sound engineers, who (unlike so many of their brethren) realize the offstage music is meant to be atmospheric and distant rather than bumped up twice too loud. There has been such an outpouring of Britten recordings during the centennial year that no one could keep up with everything, but when the dust settles it would be unsurprising if this one turned out to be one of the highlights. spacer

WILLIAM R. BRAUN

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Current Issue: December 2014 — VOL. 79, NO. 6