Bartok: Bluebeard’s Castle

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5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: DG
WORKS: Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: László Polgár, Jessye Norman, Nicholas Simon; Chicago SO/Pierre Boulez
CATALOGUE NO: 447 040-2
Bluebeard’s Castle might have been written for the recording medium. With so much of its ‘action’ in the words and its visual imagery so acutely drawn in the music, it is possible to appreciate the full picture without needing to see it staged. Hardly surprising, then, that the opera’s recorded history has been a strong one. When Boulez first recorded Bluebeard’s Castle in 1976 it swiftly became the recommended version, with the BBC SO then on an artistic high under his directorship and singing of great passion and commitment from Siegmund Nimsgern and Tatiana Troyanos. His new recording has been sitting in the can for five years – perhaps Sony’s CD reissue of the earlier one a few years ago scuppered DG’s plans. He again has a fine pair of singers in Norman and Polgár. But for all her vocal richness, Norman can seem calculated at times, compared to the more perceptible identification with the character’s dilemma shown by Troyanos. Polgár, though, doesn’t exhibit the strain occasionally heard in Nimsgern’s voice and his dramatisation of the role is undoubtedly helped by being a native Hungarian speaker.

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Boulez’s interpretation has speeded up a little in the decades between the two recordings, but it still depicts the work’s great arch-like structure with clarity and purpose. The new disc has the better sound, though there could perhaps have been more of the organ at the great climax of the Fifth Door, where, in purely sonic terms, Dorati’s 36-year-old Mercury recording comes into its own. Matthew Rye