Bartok: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: Anne Sofie von Otter, John Tomlinson; Berlin PO/Bernard Haitink
CATALOGUE NO: CDC 5 56162 2

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Full marks to Haitink for including the spoken prologue missing from virtually all recordings (Solti and Inbal excepted) of this wonderful work.

Béla Balázs’s verse may not be great poetry, but the prologue is essential in establishing not only the opera’s ‘once upon a time’ atmosphere, but also the psychological ambiguity of the drama. The closing lines, moreover, are designed to be spoken over the start of the music.

So far, so good; but I found the performance as a whole just a shade soft-edged. This is due not to the playing of the Berlin Philharmonic, which is splendid throughout, but rather to a slightly recessed recording, which, for all its admirable warmth, lacks bite.

There is not enough of the celesta’s glitter in the treasury and garden scenes; and the snarling minor seconds (the motif of blood) that suddenly cut in on the woodwinds at the end of the former scene need to make more impact.

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As Judith, Anne Sofie von Otter is on superb form. John Tomlinson is a fine Bluebeard, though he misinterprets the part in the opera’s first half, making the Duke sound altogether too menacing towards his new wife. Misha Donat