After much anticipation, these three legendary BBC projects dedicated to the Britten/Pears collection are now available for the first time on DVD and are surely an experience not to be missed.
Since the 1940's, Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears could never be separated for a host of reasons but they shall always be chiefly remembered for their musical bond. These three BBC documents have captured for posterity, the genius of these two consummate artists in performances of immortal brilliance and searing intensity.
"Grimes" was first broadcast in November 1969 and it took the British public by storm. Produced for television by John Culshaw and directed by Brian Large, Pears gives a towering characterization of the ostracized fisherman who is finally driven to madness and eventual suicide, and Britten's sensitive conducting of his own score leaves one in a state of complete admiration.
"Billy Budd" was one of the most ambitious television opera productions ever embarked upon, but in the end, the effort was worth its weight in gold. Broadcast in December 1966, the opera evolves against the background of a fully studio reconstructed rigged warship, and with Charles Mackerras at the helm of an unforgettable cast. The story of innocence and evil, as originally conceived by Hermann Melville is brought to life with telling effect. Pears "Captain Vere" and Glossop's "Budd" are indeed memorable portrayals that stick in heart and mind with impressive durability.
Britten and Pears enjoyed an outstanding reputation as foremost interpreters of both English song and German lieder. These two BBC films date from 1964 (folksongs) and 1970 (Winterreise), respectively, and both are splendid examples of the couple's innate ability to penetrate into the very heart of this special music. Pear's rendition of Schubert's darkly nostalgic cycle is uniquely expressive and all of the composer's sense of foreboding and sadness is brought across with a totally humane feeling.
These long lost archival tapes are certainly not up to today's high technical standards but careful restoration by the BBC and Decca brings the best out of them. This is an unforgettable musical experience which should definitely not be missed.
Copyright © 2008 by Gerald Fenech