OP0521. HUGH THE DROVER (Vaughan Williams), recorded 1978, w.Groves Cond. Royal Phil. & Ambrosian Opera Chorus; Robert Tear, Sheila Artmstrong, Michael Rippon, Robert Lloyd, Helen Watts, etc. (U.K.) 2-EMI 65224, w.39pp Libretto-Booklet. Long Out-of-Print, Final Copy! - 724356522428
“Charles Groves was a terrific conductor and it’s proof of his sterling qualities that [his] performances have held up so well over the years. British music could not have asked for a finer ambassador, and for my money he outclassed Boult, Handley, or any other British music specialist you might care to name (with the possible exception of another Charles – Mackerras)….Where Groves was given the chance to play something standard, as in the Enigma Variations or The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, the results generally rank with the best.
This is the first complete, and on balance still the finest, version of Vaughan Williams’ opera HUGH THE DROVER, with an excellent cast let by Robert Tear. Again, [whatever Groves touched] turned to gold”
- David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday
“Robert Tear was without question the most versatile and probably the most intelligent tenor of his generation, as authoritative in the music of the lutenist John Dowland as he was in settings of his own verses by Jonathan Dove. Likewise, he seemed as much at home on the stage as in oratorio and recital…and his public personality was striking.
In the early 1960s he came to the notice of Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, and joined the English Opera Group. He was, in the words of a colleague, ‘an absolute beginner’, but Britten's confidence in Tear was such that he was almost immediately invited to cover Pears in CURLEW RIVER (1964). Not long after he was to create Misael in THE BURNING FIERY FURNACE (1966) and the Younger Son in THE PRODIGAL SON (1968). Though he shared some of Pears' roles between 1964 and 1971, he did not altogether avoid the danger of sounding too much like the older singer.
In 1970, after the Aldeburgh festival, he was offered roles in both Britten's OWEN WINGRAVE and Michael Tippett's THE KNOT GARDEN [after which] he took on, all at Covent Garden, Lensky in EUGENE ONEGIN, PETER GRIMES, THE RAKE'S PROGRESS, Loge in DAS RHEINGOLD (his favourite role, he said), David in DIE MEISTERSINGER and Captain Vere in BILLY BUDD - a role which fascinated him.
Tear did not appear at Glyndebourne until 1989, when his reading of the role of Aschenbach in Britten's DEATH IN VENICE was compelling. It gave him special pleasure - as did the Glyndebourne ethos - and he counted it, along with Herod in SALOME (which he sang rather than, as is common, barked), Captain Vere and Loge, as among his best roles.”
- Robert Ponsonby, THE GUARDIAN, 29 March, 2011
“Helen Watts was a singer of that best British school which, with the initial gift of a fine voice, learns the business and does the job, is hardly ever known to miss a beat or fluff an entry, and ends up being taken for granted. To the record-buying public she was a regular and reliable part of the LP scene, and when given a chance - as in the premier recording of Vaughan Williams’ RIDERS TO THE SEA - she rose to the occasion nobly.
She first became known as a soloist in association with Bach, first in broadcasts, then, in 1955, appearing at a Promenade concert conducted by Sargent. Regular appearances with the newly formed Handel Opera Society led to guest performances in Berlin and Halle. She also sang in the USSR in the title role of THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA in the English Opera Group’s tour of 1964, Britten himself conducting. She sang Mozart and Richard Strauss in Salzburg, and in New York Delius and Mahler. At Covent Garden her roles included Erda in the RING, Mrs Sedley in PETER GRIMES and Madame Sosostris in MIDSUMMER MARRIAGE. To these she added Mistress Quickly in FALSTAFF with the Welsh National Opera, singing with the Company till 1983. In all of this time she was a sought-after soloist in performances of oratorio throughout Britain and sustained a busy schedule of other concert work. Official recognition came with her award of a CBE in 1978. Of her recordings, GRAMOPHONE’s critics (like most others) invariably wrote with admiration and respect - and they had plenty to be respectful about. Nearly 20 volumes of Bach cantatas are enriched by her participation; she was a stalwart principal in the early Handel opera recordings on L’Oiseau-Lyre. She was the ‘dependable, sympathetic’ Ursula in both of the early versions in BÉATRICE ET BÉNÉDICT (David Cairns’ words in OPERA ON RECORD Vol 2) and sings ‘nobly’ (mine in Vol 3) as the bereaved mother in RIDERS TO THE SEA. There was much else, including a fine performance as the Angel in THE DREAM OF GERONTIUS, which in the 1976 recording under Boult does find a worthy setting. One returns to that death-haunted old woman in what is surely Vaughan Williams’ operatic masterpiece. As long as the waves continue to wash against the desolate Arran coastline, listeners who come to know the opera in that still unequalled recording will hear in their minds the voice of Helen Watts.”
- John Steane, GRAMOPHONE, 23 October, 2009