A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

What I'm Listening To

Benjamin Britten, Billy Budd. Philip Langridge (Vere); Simon Keenlyside (Billy Budd); John Tomlinson (Claggart). London Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, conducted by Richard Hickox.

I've never seen Billy Budd onstage, but I'm told it can make a powerful impact. This recording, however, seems dramatically slack. Langridge, Tomlinson and especially Keenlyside make solid efforts to bring the characters to life. But Langridge is handicapped by one of those high, thin, grainy English tenor voices that make you wonder why Vere is held in such awe by his crew, and Claggart's menace is undermined by the wobble in Tomlinson's voice. This is also one of those opera recordings that are stingy on the dynamics, so that the quiet opening is almost lost unless you bump the volume up.

That said, the recording is almost worth it for the power and nuance of Keenlyside's singing and acting. His version of "Look, through the port comes the moonshine astray" is heartbreaking. Keenlyside's Budd doesn't seem to be available on YouTube, but here's a fine version of "Look, through the port" by Dwayne Croft from the 1997 Met production. In the second part, the Dansker is Paul Plishka.

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