Bartok: Bluebeard’s Castle

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Accord
ALBUM TITLE: Bartók
WORKS: Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: Violeta Urmana, Peter Milkulas; Liza Kerob (violin); Monte-Carlo PO/Marek Janowsk
CATALOGUE NO: 442 8451
This is a finely-sung account of Bartók’s great opera, with Peter Mikulas highlighting Bluebeard’s compassionate nature, and Violeta Urmana making a touchingly vulnerable Judith. But Bluebeard’s Castle is the most opulent of Bartók’s orchestral scores, and the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic is no match for the best of its rivals: the Berlin Philharmonic with Haitink, the BBC Symphony Orchestra and Saraste (Warner Classics), or the LSO and István Kertész (Decca). Moreover, the sound-quality of this new recording doesn’t do justice to the subtleties of Bartók’s instrumentation. The celesta arpeggio that runs throughout the scene of Bluebeard’s treasury, representing the glint of jewellery, is virtually inaudible; while at the opera’s central tutti climax, the all-important organ lacks presence.

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Nor does this ‘live’ performance communicate any real sense of theatricality. When Judith hammers on the first of the locked doors, her action is greeted by a deep sighing sound that terrifies her, and to which she repeatedly refers in the dialogue that follows. Here, however, there is no sound-effect at all; and when, later in the opera she opens the penultimate door to reveal a lake of tears, the sobbing is inadequately represented by a wind-machine. For a recording with greater dramatic impact, the Haitink version with Anne Sofie von Otter and John Tomlinson remains a strong recommendation. Misha Donat