Burton Raffel is the crown prince of Old and Middle English translators in my book, and his Chaucer is another masterpiece. The rhyming is more subtle than in other translations of Chaucer, but it's there; and the tales unfold with seemingly effortless clarity. This is a high-quality, multiple-reader production, and it includes all the tales (including the Tale of Melibee and the Parson's Tale). The only thing marring the production are the chapter breaks: they are geared to the CDs rather than the individual tales. If you're planning to listen straight through, that's not a problem, but I would have preferred the ability to be more selective.
It's amazing that in only a few months, Audible has gone from a skimpy selection of Chaucer to three outstanding recordings of the complete set of Tales: one from Charlton Griffin, one from Blackstone, and this one from the BBC. Any one of them provides a wonderful listening experience. This one is my favorite because of Raffel; others may suit your taste better. But for heaven's sake get ONE of them.
Seamus Heaney is a wonderful poet and a wonderful reader: listening to him is like hearing the original poet holding forth. But the reading is abridged, in what seems more like a marketing decision -- trying to fit the audiobook onto a two-CD set -- than an artistic one. "Beowulf" could certainly use some abridgement here and there, and I wouldn't mind if there were only minor omissions; but among the episodes cut is the challenge that Unferth issues to Beowulf about his swimming contest with Brecca. This isn't just empty padding: it's essential to the characters of both Unferth and Beowulf. In many ways this is the best single recording of "Beowulf" available: why couldn't there be an unabridged (or at least a less-abridged) version as well? That would get six stars out of five. No other version comes close to the mastery of language shown by this one.
Kenneth Cranham does a remarkable job conveying the complex, brilliant, and sometimes tortured personality of Samuel Johnson. Johnson could appear bizarre to people who met him for the first time: he had facial scars and tics and jerky movements, and he rolled around in his chair, unable to sit still; and he had many verbal tics as well, clicking with his tongue, murmuring to himself, blowing out his breath like a great whale. (Some people at first thought he was mentally deficient - until he opened his mouth and started talking.) Cranham captures this semi-Tourettes aspect of Johnson with sound alone, without the benefit of his own (somewhat Johnsonian) body.
The production bills itself as an adaptation of Boswell's Life of Johnson. But it includes other material as well, some of it from Boswell's journals, some of it from accounts of Johnson by his friend Hester Thrale. Inevitably, in such a short production, a lot is missing; but Robin Brroks, who wrote the script, made an intelligent and coherent selection of events. Oliver Goldsmith is here, as are John Wilkes and Hester Thrale, and of course Boswell himself, a self-absorbed rake who initiates his friendship with Johnson with one eye on his own future publishing royalties.
There are a number of dramatic episodes in this quiet scholar's life, most tragically his break with the widowed Mrs Thrale after she decided to marry an Italian dancing master. The audio production ably shows the pain of this sadly self-inflicted breach, leaving Johnson almost alone in London when he felt himself nearing death and terrified of eternal damnation. Cranham's voice during some of these later scenes evokes a horror that gave me chills.
What you won't get from this audiobook - and don't really get a strong sense of from Boswell's own biography - is a clear understanding of why anyone should care about the life of Johnson. He was a great talker, one if the greatest: but more to the point, he was a brilliant writer, one of the best writers of discursive prose the English language has ever had.
But omissions aside, this is a good place to begin.
I think this source of audio book was translated by Horace Gregory, link as follow: