These are two quite different recordings of Under Milk Wood. The one by Argo is a studio recording by the BBC starring Richard Burton and the Caedmon recording is from a year before that one (but released a couple of years later), it was recorded live in front of an audience and it features Dylan Thomas himself. The Argo recording is the most well known version.
Now Under Milk Wood was written by Dylan Thomas to be a play for voices, a radio drama, so the experience you are getting through the records is pretty much as he intended. I much prefer the Argo recording, it’s slicker but also it just nails the characters better but there’s something nice about the Caedmon version. Dylan Thomas was a great performer of his own work. His voice perfectly suited live readings. Some writers are not so good at reading their own work but Mr Thomas seemed to write his words to fit his voice and his voice was tremendous, all deep and rich and dramatic. The other cast members in the Caedmon recording don’t work so well. Part of the problem is their accents. Llareggub was supposed to be a villiage in Wales and their American accents are distracting but then again, this performance was for a New York audience so I really shouldn’t judge it too harshly for that. An interesting thing about this recording is that it almost wasn’t taped. According to the liner notes someone at one of the performances just decided to record it and put a microphone on the floor at the centre of the stage. It’s remarkable luck that someone did.
Caedmon had planned to record a studio version with Dylan Thomas but he drank himself to death before that could be done (“I’ve had 18 straight whiskies. I think that’s the record!”) I often wonder if Dylan Thomas, had he lived, may have been cast in the Richard Burton part for the Argo recording. Possibly. Who knows? Either way it’s a fine record. There’s also a more recent recording with Anthony Hopkins on EMI but I’ll stay with the Richard Burton one.
The last thing to note is the art. The Argo cover is by Olga Lehmann and the Caedmon one is by Antonio Frasconi. Both are beautiful images that suit the tone of the play.
I feel lucky to own these. They’ve kept me company on many nights when I’ve visited the village of Llareggub and it’s inhabitants in vivid aural dreams.