This remarkable recording is taken from concert performances in Snape Maltings during the 2011 Aldeburgh festival. The Rape of Lucretia seems to have been heard there more often than any of Britten's stage works in the last 10 years, almost as if its reputation as one of the most problematic of his operas has been the reason for its frequency, in the hope that familiarity will dilute the text's problems. Perhaps it could even make more palatable the awkward ending that Britten insisted upon, in which an epilogue preaching Christian forgiveness is grafted on to a drama that offers little scope for redemption.
There are no weaknesses there, either. The Male and Female Chorus, Ian Bostridge and Susan Gritton, set the standard in their introduction, each word ringingly clear, every shade of meaning registered. Their commentary is wonderfully objective and humane, just as the protagonists in the drama are presented in all their contradictions – from Angelika Kirschlager's Lucretia, by turns sensuously honeyed and harrowingly moving, Christopher Purves' assured Collatinus, and Peter Coleman-Wright's startlingly feral Tarquinius, to the equally well observed smaller roles of Benjamin Russell (Junius), Hilary Summers (Bianca) and Claire Booth (Lucia). If Britten's own Decca version, with Janet Baker as Lucretia, will always have a special place in the work's history on disc, as will those featuring the original cast from 1946 and 1947, then this performance is surely the best of recent times, redemptive in a way that the work itself can never be.But what Oliver Knussen's reading shows above all is that the best possible justification for performing The Rape of Lucretia is the quality of the score, which emerges more pungent and fiercely dramatic than I've ever heard it before, bathed in the warmth of the Maltings acoustic and captured in every detail by the wonderfully vivid recording. All the instrumentalists in the Aldeburgh Festival Ensemble are identified in the credits, and that's just as it should be, for Knussen sees to it that the contribution of every one is as just as significant as those of the singers.