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Cat. No. CHAN 10473(2) Price: £21 No. of discs: 2
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CHAN 10473 - Britten: Owen Wingrave
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Available From: 01 June 2008
Commissioned by BBC television in 1966, the work is something of a Cinderella among Britten’s operas, despite its imaginative, closely knit score. One possible reason is that it was composed for television rather than the theatre. Like its 1954 predecessor, The Turn of the Screw, Owen Wingrave is based on a ghost story by Henry James. Britten read the story while he was working on The Turn of the Screw, and even then conceived the idea of setting it as an opera. The music employs the relatively spare textures that Britten adopted in his later years.

After the concert performance, The Guardian wrote: ‘Any doubts as to its worth, were quashed by this performance, conducted by Richard Hickox, who exposed, often with lethal precision, the moral paradox at the work’s centre. In depicting Owen’s determination to come out to his military family as a pacifist, Britten adopts a fiercely anti-war stance: yet the opera also envisions life as a battlefield, where death is often the price for the preservation of integrity. Hickox drew us through the resulting complexities with passionate subtlety. Ricocheting brass and clattering timpani delineated both Owen’s struggle and the forces of reaction that hem him in, while sensual strings and the sound of Britten’s beloved gamelan conveyed the vision of peace that drives Owen on.’ The Times commented: ‘Hickox and the CLS made every note count, every hiccupping rhythm, each transparent texture. Battle nightmares, sherry being poured: we saw them all, in sound.’

A host of wonderful soloists, including Alan Opie, James Gilchrist and Janice Watson, are accompanied by the City of London Sinfonia. Hickox’s previous recordings on Chandos of major works by Britten have been tremendously successful, as shown by such accolades as a Gramophone Award for the War Requiem and a Grammy for Peter Grimes. ‘Richard Hickox’s Chandos version rivals even the composer’s own definitive account in its passion and perception, and must now be regarded as first choice… outstanding performances’, wrote The Penguin Guide of the War Requiem.

With such a Britten expert as Hickox at the helm, this recording is sure to win the composer more converts
Reviews

This excellent recording by Hickox and the City of London Sinfonia conjures shimmering life in to 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. Peter Coleman-Wright does much with the pacifist soapbox that is Britten’s Owen, and while the Wingraves themselves remain a Greek chorus of approbation, they are nonetheless terrifying in this worthy reassessment.
The Times

Hickox’s performance has much to commend it, not least his vivid characterisation of the score with the City of London Sinfonia
Financial Times

Profiting from the naturalness and clarity of Chandos’ sound, the City of London Sinfonia offers playing of considerable brilliance under Richard Hickox. The Tiffin Boy’s Choir makes a brief but lovely contribution in the opening of Act 2. Besides the valuable Burton essay, the booklet has artist biographies and a full libretto.
International Record Review

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

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.
The Guardian

I am overjoyed, then, to have this superb new recording to remind me how deeply moving this work is. The first recording was the Britten on Decca, made a month after the filming of the opera. One might suppose that it would be definitive, since the work was written for the performers who recorded it. As it happens, Hickox’s recording is in every way the equal of the original… The Hickox set comes with fine notes, artist bios, full text in three languages, and the usual fine Chandos finish… it is most highly recommended
Fanfare

Richard Hickox’s conducting is Hitchcockian in its dramatic tension, and the City of London Sinfonia plays like a dream. The cast is uniformly excellent – especially Peter Coleman-Wright in the title role – and everyone’s diction is superb.
Classic FM Magazine

Richard Hickox’s command of the score also banishes one 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 experienced here in the playing of the City of London Sinfonia, which is wonderfully alive.
The Telegraph

Hickox draws haunting colours and chordings from his City of London Sinfonia, and the recording is flawlessly presented too.
BBC Music Magazine

Coyle’s wife, the only sympathetic character in the work, is tailor made for Janice Watson. In the thankless role of Kate, Owen’s fiancée, Pamela Helen Stephen follows in Janet Baker’s footsteps in vividly depicting a character so alien to her personality. The orchestral playing is excellent and the recording quality well up to Chandos standard.
Sunday Telegraph

 

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