Benjamin Britten's own recordings of his operas must be considered authoritative, but any great art can yield insights from a variety of interpretations, and an objective performer may find felicities in a score of which the composer was hardly aware. Additionally, new recording technology can create a truer realization of the sound, and in vocal music, the quality of voices in subsequent productions can surpass the originals, so new recordings are always welcome.
Virgin's reissue of its 1993 recording of A Midsummer Night's Dream, conducted by Richard Hickox is notable for how closely it resembles Britten's 1966 version in many aspects. The sound quality is somewhat fuller than Britten's, and orchestral details emerge with more clarity, but the engineers have gone overboard in duplicating the spatial relationships of a stage performance, so there is a distracting variability in the soloists' miking; some are very close and some are so distant as to be nearly inaudible. It may be an accurate replication of the theater experience, but more sonic consistency would have been less annoying. (Some decisions seem random; Lysander almost always sounds distant, and Demetrius, close. The miking is, however, very effective in capturing Puck's fleet leaps from near to far.) The soloists in the two versions are similar in quality, which is very high, as well as in interpretation. Britten's conducting of the diaphanous opening and the fairies' sound world has a magic that Hickox's does not, but Hickox's handling of the comic elements is generally more deft and funnier, except for the play of Pyramus and Thisbe, which Britten handles incomparably. Britten's reading of the score unfolds more organically, while Hickox is less successful in making the sound worlds of the fairies, the mortals, and the mechanicals flow together as an integrated whole. If a choice must be made, Britten's original remains the preferred version, but not by so large a margin as to disqualify Hickox's very reputable effort, which has much to recommend it.