CD of the Month – Peter Grimes from Chandos8:05, 23rd October 2020
It is perhaps a bit glib to say that the new recording of Peter Grimes is a perfect storm, but after singing the title role for years, Stuart Skelton has it down to a fine art. Likewise Edward Gardner’s conducting. Add the fact that this studio recording is based on semi-staged performances in Bergen and London with the same forces, and the sense that the piece is in everyone’s bones is palpable. The orchestra rips through the score, and Gardner doesn’t just milk the interludes for all their worth, but is hugely attentive to rhythmic and percussive detail – for example, the moments of dance catch the attention as they flicker in and out of focus. He builds the ensembles clearly, ensuring that they never descend into simply a wall of sound, and allows everything time to breath in the more introspective moments. The choruses are thrilling not just in full voice, but in the even richness of their combined tone.
The cast is incredibly well-meshed. Roderick Williams is a sympathetic and understated Balstrode and Susan Bickley bustles effectively as Auntie, trying to keep her nieces under control. Robert Murray stirs things up as a cocky Boles, abetted by the sniping Mrs Sedley of Catherine Wyn-Rogers. This was the last recording made by Erin Wall before her tragically early death in October from cancer. She was recently a sensuous Thaïs on disc, but here she takes such a different role as Ellen Orford. Her radiant soprano catches the inherent goodness of the character, and she has no problems with the role vocally, floating a pure B-flat in the Embroidery Aria, while filling out the larger phrases with ample tone.
Skelton’s tenor is perhaps a touch large for the role (not that it bothered Jon Vickers) and obviously he has no problems letting rip. But one of his main strengths is the beauty of tone he commands, so he never rants. He can also hone things down to a soft yet still supported thread that doesn’t descend into crooning – he has a remarkable legato, so his ‘Now the Great Bear and Pleiades’ is voiced on one quiet thread. Neither does he overdo the mad scene. His Grimes is a simple man who is unable to cope and is increasingly bewildered, a moving portrayal. One final point: the diction throughout is very good indeed. Not over-enunciated but generally wonderfully clear.