Britten Centenary: Peter Grimes

Part of A Boy Was Born and Birmingham International Concert Season 2013/14

Thursday 26th September 2013

Symphony Hall, Birmingham

London Philharmonic Orchestra

Vladimir Jurowski conductor

Stuart Skelton Peter Grimes

Pamela Armstrong Ellen Orford

Alan Opie Captain Balstrode

Pamela Helen Stephen Auntie

Malin Christensson, Elizabeth Cragg Nieces

Michael Colvin Bob Boles

Brindley Sherratt Swallow

Jean Rigby Mrs Sedley

Mark Stone Ned Keene

Brian Galliford Reverend Adams

Jonathan Veira Hobson

London Voices

Daniel Slater director

Britten Peter Grimes 150’

This concert has a running time of c.3 hours including one 20 minute interval.

In 1945, Benjamin Britten’s Peter Grimes blew through British music like a blast of fresh salt air, and this elemental drama of a man standing alone against a tight-knit community is still arguably his finest achievement. In Britten’s centenary year, Vladimir Jurowski conducts the London Philharmonic and a wonderful cast in a concert performance of an opera that never loses its power – or its heart.

Oliver Condy, Editor of BBC Music Magazine explains why he has recommended tonight’s concert:

There’s little argument that Peter Grimes is Britten’s greatest opera, if not his most brilliant work: a haunting and disturbing opera yet one that’s rich and frequently very beautiful. Birmingham may be landlocked, but there’s no doubt this incredible cast will transport you straight to the wild shores of Suffolk among the embittered, suspicious townsfolk of the fictional Borough.

www.thsh.co.uk

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

Click here for full review

“Britten’s operas are everywhere this centenary year, so the prospect of a concert-hall outing for Peter Grimes, even one with Vladimir Jurowski conducting the London Philharmonic, wasn’t necessarily something to get too excited about. But sometimes even performances of works that you know very well, and have heard and seen countless times, can take you completely unawares and emerge with unexpected force. This was one of those occasions.

This turned out to be more than a concert performance, too, but a semi-staging in costume (casual, more or less present-day) – directed very economically and effectively by Daniel Slater with a set made of ropes by designer Alex Doidge-Green – that made full use of the Symphony Hall platform. The sound was wonderfully vivid, and every morsel of Jurowski’s interpretation – its cool, precise clarity interspersed with climaxes of frightening intensity – came across fiercely.”     …

*****

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

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“It has become traditional for Symphony Hall to present a blockbusting event to launch each year’s new Birmingham International Concert Season.

This time it was a concert performance of Britten’s Peter Grimes as part of the composer’s centenary celebrations, and the result at the end of a lengthy evening was a standing ovation.

In fact there was much resourceful stage-movement (Daniel Slater the shrewd director) in front of, around, and behind Vladimir Jurowski’s excellent London Philharmonic Orchestra, Tim Mascall masterminded atmospherically subtle lighting, and Alex Goidge-Green’s design dressed the large company in approximately contemporary gear and made effective use of a tow-rope ranged across the stage.

The chorus is a huge protagonist in this opera of bullying persecution (as are so many of Britten’s), and London Voices were enthusiastically in character, each in individual role.

It’s just a pity that they were clutching scores all the time.

In a large cast, Stuart Skelton was simply heartbreaking as a shambling, bewildered Grimes, implying derangement in this lonely fisherman, his vocal flexibility allied to despairing body-language.”     ,,,

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Review by Geoff Read, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Knitting it all together were the London Philharmonic Orchestra and Vladimir Jurowski their Principal Conductor, another immense contribution. Jurowski’s opera experience (Komische/Glyndebourne) showed with his sympathetic accompaniment of the soloists, while his handling of the six interludes generated a rich symphonic poem characteristic. In Dawn, the flutes of Florian Aichinger and Stewart Mcilwham combined exquisitely with the strings led by Peter Schoeman to produce the familiar composite timbre that opens the first of the Four Sea Interludes. Jurowski painted a graphic picture from Britten’s tonal and atonal mix. The LPO gave a cacophonous reproduction of the Storm themes in Interlude II, noted for Britten’s use of the Phrygian mode to symbolise the inner angst of Grimes. Watching Jurowski handle the constantly changing rhythms of Sunday Morning revealed a conductor on peak form. The Passacaglia provided further musical evidence of the multi-faceted personality of Grimes, its complex ground bass affording a background for the dark viola solo of Hung-Wei Hang. The upper woodwind spikes penetrated the stuttering chorale of Moonlight while the Fog cadenza had sanity-destroying eeriness.

Many concert performances of opera are just that: great sounds (particularly within such wonderful venues this Birmingham one) but without a feel for the action. Although there were no sets as such, director Daniel Slater introduced sufficient nautical elements to ensure his production of Peter Grimes really came alive. The ongoing movement of both the Borough community and featured residents (free of any unwieldy scores) had clearly been thoroughly rehearsed, resulting in a smooth and natural sequence of events that moved the narrative forward. There was judicious use of props – particularly the boy’s jumper and a heavy gauge white rope. The use of the capstan rope made any visible picture of Grimes’ fishing vessel unnecessary: in I.i Balstrode took the posture of anchor-man in a tug-of-war to haul in the boat and at III.ii when persuaded to scuttle the craft, the rope slithered off stage, gathering speed as the boat was claimed by Davy Jones. The sight of Grimes crossing the stage carrying the body of the boy in his arms was another dramatic highlight.

This was an exhilarating opening to the 2013/14 Birmingham International Concert Season. This was indeed concert opera with a difference, and in a different class. What a shame the Symphony Hall was not filled to capacity.”

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Review by Alexander Campbell, ClassicalSource:

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“This, the first event of the Birmingham International Concert Season, proved to be exceptional both from a musical and dramatic perspective bringing facets of Benjamin Britten’s operatic masterpiece prominently to the fore. The London Philharmonic Orchestra, in Symphony Hall’s bright and clear acoustic, provided some outstanding playing and many felicities that might lie dormant in an opera-house pit were here brought into strong relief. Britten’s careful use of percussion effects registered as they seldom do even on recordings. Even the ‘Interludes’ sounded freshly minted.  There was excellent use of the acoustics for the off-stage band at the start of the final Act, and likewise the distant voices that interrupt or augment Grimes’s delirium in the same Act. Vladimir Jurowski’s pacing was exemplary; he seemed to relish the lighter moments of the work giving them space, and yet there was no absence of the elemental – for the weather plays a critical role as a protagonist in this piece. The Borough’s inexorable descent into vengeful fury was tellingly handled.

The cast was strong. Stuart Skelton‘s Peter Grimes, familiar from ENO and a concert performance at the BBC Proms, is surely becoming the definitive interpreter of his generation. He sings the role beautifully – quiet and introspective when needed (‘The Great Bear and Pleiades’) and with a clarion voice for the character’s more forceful moments. He benefits from a strong and credible physical presence too. From the interpretive perspective it is hard to recall a Grimes so obviously traumatised by the experience of losing his first apprentice and so ill-equipped to deal with the emotional fallout. His depiction of Grimes’s desperate need for emotional support and his frustrated inability to allow those who do care to provide it is vocally and physically expressed. Every utterance was clear and weighted as part of a complex and devastating portrayal.”     …

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