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NU 6109
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NU 6109
(this is a multiple CD album sold separately)

BRITTEN: Turn of the Screw (The)

The Classical Shop
release date: November 2008


Steuart Bedford

Eileen Hulse


Felicity Lott


Phyllis Cannan


Philip Langridge


Sam Pay



Mike Hatch

Record Label



Total Time - 106:23
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The Turn of the Screw, Op. 54

1 Act I: The Prologue 3:07
2 Act I: Theme: The Journey 3:22
3 Act I: Variation 1: The Welcome 4:00
4 Act I: Variation 2: The Letter 3:56
5 Act I: Variation 3: The Tower 5:37
6 Act I: Variation 4: The Window 9:57
7 Act I: Variation 6: The Lesson 4:57
8 Act I: Variation 6: The Lake 7:07
9 Act I: Variation 7: At Night 11:03

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1 Act II: Variation 8: Colloquy and Soliloquy 8:45
2 Act II: Variation 9: The Bells 8:20
3 Act II: Variation 10: Miss Jessel 6:43
4 Act II: Variation 11: The Bedroom 6:22
5 Act II: Variation 12: Quint 2:14
6 Act II: Variation 13: The Piano 4:28
7 Act II: Variation 14: Flora 4:20
8 Act II: Variation 15: Miles 12:05
 Phyllis Cannan soprano
 Eileen Hulse soprano
 Philip Langridge tenor
 Felicity Lott soprano
 Sam Pay tenor
 Steuart Bedford

On 12th January 1895 Henry James noted a ghost-story told him at Addington by the Archbishop of Canterbury, a tale of two young children left to the care of servants in an old country-house and first corrupted by them and then haunted by their ghosts. It was this story that became James’s novella The Turn of the Screw and that served Benjamin Britten as the basis of his challenging opera, written at remarkable speed in response to a commission for a new opera to be staged at the Venice Biennale. There had been considerable demands on the composer’s time. In the first place there was the composition of the coronation opera Gloriana, duly mounted at Covent Garden in 1953, and then a severe attack of bursitis in the right shoulder had made writing with the right hand impossible. In the event the new chamber opera was written in the space of four months, from March 1954, and duly staged at La Fenice in Venice on 14th September.
The original novella by Henry James, whether entirely the result of archiepiscopal anecdote or influenced by events in the writer’s own family, has puzzled many readers. As in the opera, the story is seen through the eyes of the governess, a young woman sent to take charge of two children, Miles and Flora, at Bly, a country-house in East Anglia. Angelic and seemingly perfect in behaviour, the children are soon shown to have within them elements of precocious evil, apparently the result of their corruption by the man-servant Peter Quint and their former governess, Miss Jessel, both now dead. Quint and Miss Jessel return, however, as ghosts, luring the children to evil. The problem unresolved by Henry James, but left to the imaginative speculation of the reader, lay in the question as to the reality of the ghosts and the state of mind of the new governess. In Britten’s opera the ghosts seem real enough, Quint an embodiment of evil, an interpretation which seems to accord with the composer’s own views, although this has been disputed.
The libretto for the new opera was entrusted to Myfanwy Piper, wife of the artist John Piper, who had collaborated with Britten on the décor of The Rape of Lucretia, Albert Herring, Billy Budd and Gloriana. She worked closely with the composer, who had his own increasingly clear ideas of how the opera should be shaped. Musically the casting of the two children posed obvious problems. While finding a boy to take the part of Miles was no very great challenge, it was much more difficult to find a girl to take on the even more demanding rôle of Flora, a younger sister to Miles. In the first production, and often in later ones, it has been found necessary to cast an adult singer in the rôle. Other problems that arose for the first staging lay in the inevitably complicated lighting plot and the rapid changes of scene. In Venice, and in the first recording of the opera, the part of Quint and the Prologue was taken by Peter Pears and that of Miss Jessel by Arda Mandikian. Joan Cross, the first Ellen Orford, sang the part of Mrs Grose, the housekeeper at Bly, and Jennifer Vyvyan that of the otherwise unnamed Governess. The parts of Miles and Flora were taken by David Hemming and Olive Dyer. The work is scored for flute, doubling piccolo and alto flute, oboe, doubling cor anglais, clarinet, doubling bass clarinet, bassoon, horn, percussion, harp, piano, doubling celesta, string quartet and double bass. The miraculous and evocative use of these instruments ranges from the seemingly idyllic to the menacing, with the celesta colouring the exotic music of Quint, its harmony reflected in the use of the harp for Miss Jessel.
The musical structure of The Turn of the Screw is more than ingenious. Scenes are introduced by variations on a twelve-note theme, each on a different key centre, ascending in the first act and descending in the second. Britten, in one way, shows what tonal use may be made of a twelve-note theme, his treatment of it avoiding Schoenbergian techniques that had become increasingly fashionable among composers at the time. The theme consists of an ascending series of fourths, inverted as fifths, and much harmonic use is made of the interval of a fourth.
"Bedford, who took over from Britten himself when the composer could no longer conduct his own recordings, here presents a similarly idiomatic performance with a comparable sharpness and magnetism that, thanks to the spacious recording, brings out the eerie atmosphere of the piece. The recording also allows one to appreciate the sharp originality of the instrumentation in what by any standards is the tautest of Britten’s operas. The singers too have been chosen to follow the pattern set by the original performers. Langridge here, like Pears before him, takes the double role of narrator and Peter Quint, echoing Pears’s inflexions, but putting his own stamp on the characterization. Felicity Lott is both powerful and vulnerable as the Governess, rising superbly to the big climaxes which, thanks to the recording quality, have a chilling impact, not least at the very end. Sam Pay is a fresh-voiced Miles, less knowing than David Hemmings in the Britten set, with Eileen Hulse bright and girlish as Flora. Nadine Secunde is a strong Miss Jessel, and Phyllis Cannan matches up to the strength of her predecessor, Joan Cross. An outstanding set."  ***   Key Recording
The Penguin Guide - January 2009

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