I am terribly fond of this recording of an opera that is blessed by having so many excellent and differing recordings to choose from. It is not the earthiest of versions, with both Rolfe-Johnson and Lott singing with great beauty and sensitivity. I don't think this makes the recording less dramatic, rather it is just a different approach. Rolfe-Johnson portays Grimes as somewhat of a lost mystic, the purity of his tone helping you to understand him as someone who is disconnected from the village. This is perfectly encapsulated in the "Now the Great Bear and Pleiades" aria in the pub, surely what Britten intended. His final monologue/mad scene is very moving and beautifully sung.
Lott, as always, produces some exquisite noises (The embroidery aria is gorgeous) and a sense of aloofness which could also be read as disconnectedness, hence the attraction to Grimes. It is a very powerful performance. Thomas Allen sounds every bit the old sea dog and is a wonderful contrast to Rolfe-Johnson. All the smaller roles are well cast (often luxuriously so with Simon Keenlyside, for example singing Ned Keene) and very convincing. The banter in the pub is amusing and effective and never resorts to corny accents or hammy acting.
The orchestra is sumptous and spledidly caught in what I think is demonstration class recording. The orchestral interludes are vital in this opera and have been treated as such. The climaxes (both vocal and orchestral) are thrilling. Listen to the pub scene during the storm where a most realistic soundscape has been created, especially with the chorus who sound very much part of the action. Their yelling of 'Peter Grimes' will send chills down your spine.
Buy it, even if you have several recordings already of this wonderful work.