Discs: Tightening the Screw

BRITTEN: The Turn of the Screw: Felicity Lott, Philip Langridge, Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble / Steuart Bedford (Collins 70302: two CDs)

SEXUAL repression, child abuse . . . suffice it to say, Britten's perfectly formed little masterpiece has acquired a few additional layers of subtext over the years. Is the Governess victim of a powerful infatuation with her employer? Are he and Peter Quint essentially one and the same? What really happened between Quint and the boy Miles?

For sure, Henry James's ghost story is about a good deal more than demonic possession - good versus evil. But the drama is in the psychology, and much of that is left unspoken. From the moment Britten's tiny orchestra proliferates from the solo piano of the Prologue, it's all in the mind. Dream factory time. The resourcefulness of the scoring remains one of Britten's finest achievements. Clarity and ambiguity miraculously co-exist. You could take away the voices and still keep the narrative alive.

Steuart Bedford's Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble do just that with riveting incisiveness and theatricality. When Miles throws down his challenge to the Governess in the churchyard scene, the intensity of the orchestral release makes for a true apotheosis, the point on which the entire drama, the screw, will turn.

No flaws in the casting, either. Felicity Lott is an affecting Governess, tempering formality with a womanly allure. And she is terrifically commanding in the frustration and anguish of her later scenes.

But the heart of darkness beats in Quint's seductive vocal melismas, and Philip Langridge has long since put to rest the ghost of Peter Pears. Sam Pay's Miles succumbs touchingly. Will we ever really know the full significance of his terrible cry 'Peter Quint, you devil'?

ES

I'VE always felt that Britten as interpreter of his own music tended to pull his punches - at least on record. Well, self-revelation on paper is one thing; as a confessional, the studio leaves a lot to be desired. While the old mono Britten recording is full of haunting things, this is the version that chills, from the first, ominous presentation of the 'Screw' theme to the anguished fragmentation of the little 'Malo' tune at the end.

Steuart Bedford handles the pacing very surely. However spare the writing, the tension never ebbs, and there's some beautiful solo playing. Britten's claim that writing The Turn of the Screw was 'like squeezing toothpaste out of a tube that's nearly finished' is harder than ever to believe. Operas are almost expected to have musical lacunae - not this one.

It isn't all gains, I admit. Sam Pay, as the ambiguous 'innocent' Miles, is a little more reticent, less secure than David Hemmings, the role's creator on record and in the theatre, though his mounting anxiety in the final, fatal show-down is convincing enough.

But Felicity Lott is a superb Governess, heroic yet fragile, at once striving to uncover the truth and fighting against the realisation she dreads. Philip Langridge's Quint is on the same high level: insidiously charming, but increasingly revealing his craving for life and . . .

And those who see the other ghost, Miss Jessel, as a dramatic failure may revise their opinions after hearing Nadine Secunde: the role remains secondary, but its contribution to the nightmare atmosphere is enhanced. Even the ghosts' Colloquy, with its carefully underlined Yeats quotations, compels - not a trace of archness. If you thought the composer's recording was definitive (a dubious concept anyway), try this and think again.

SJ

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent