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Peter Grimes

Peter Grimes 6 February 1958, Royal Opera House

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The UK broadcast premiere of Janacek's Jenůfa, reissued by mpLIVE, has already attracted critical acclaim, not least for the superbly dramatic conducting of Rafael Kubelík.

Now, for the first time in over half a century, we can appreciate his detailed, spontaneous and febrile approach to another classic 20th-century opera, Peter Grimes: this is, in fact, the only extant recording of a Britten opera conducted by Kubelík.

The central role is naturally taken by the man for whom it was written, singing with perhaps even more freedom and authority live in the house, and with Kubelík's slightly more relaxed tempi, than he did in the classic Decca recording made later in 1958. That was conducted by the composer, who was as yet comparatively unused to the demands both of marshalling large forces and dealing with the complexities of a studio recording. Another appreciable factor in the success and unique qualities of this performance is the Australian soprano Sylvia Fisher, singing 'an imposingly intense Ellen Orford', as the Britten scholar Arnold Whittall remarks in his booklet notes.

The rest of the cast is highly attuned both to the conductor's approach and to the work itself, which had hardly fallen from the repertoire since its triumphant first performance in November 1947. Nor has the cathartic appeal of this psychologically acute portrayal of an outsider and a closed society faded in the meanwhile, as the praise attendant upon the recent staging by English National Opera testifies.