Bartok: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: Warner
ALBUM TITLE: Bartok – Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
WORKS: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: John Tomlinson, Jeanne-Michele Charbonnet, Mátyás Sárközi; BBC SO/Jukka-Pekka Saraste
CATALOGUE NO: 2564 61953-2
This very well recorded performance of Bartók’s endlessly fascinating opera, taken from last year’s Proms, is an impressive achievement on the whole, with a commanding account of the title-role from John Tomlinson, a fine grasp of the score by Jukka-Pekka Saraste and superb playing from the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Both singers’ Hungarian sounds convincingly idiomatic (unlike that of Walter Berry and – particularly – Christa Ludwig on Kertész’s classic Decca recording). Tomlinson’s characterisation of Bluebeard, though, is somewhat overbearing. This, after all, is a lonely figure, and one for whom we are meant to feel some compassion. His repeated question as to whether his new wife feels afraid should surely arise out of genuine concern, rather than be issued as a menacing challenge. Tomlinson is also the Bluebeard on Haitink’s recording with the Berlin Philharmonic, where he is warmer, as well as vocally on slightly better form: on this new version he has an occasional tendency to sing just below the note.

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Jeanne Michèle Charbonnet sings well throughout, though she can’t quite match Anne Sofie von Otter’s dramatic range for Haitink. And in the quiet, expressionless phrases with which the numbed Judith greets the sight of Bluebeard’s vast domains she rather spoils the effect by coming in too soon following each blaze of orchestral splendour. What finally tips the balance towards Haitink is that the spoken prologue is so much more compellingly delivered. But those who already have the EMI may well want to add this handsomely-packaged disc to their collection. Misha Donat