Bartók: Bluebeard’s Castle

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Bartok
LABELS: LSO Live
WORKS: Bluebeard’s Castle
PERFORMER: Elena Zhidkova, Willard White; London SO/Valery Gergiev
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0685 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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Bartók’s only opera has fared extremely well on disc, with a succession of recordings any of which might be selected as virtually ideal. This new LSO production, from two performances given last January, can certainly be counted among the classic versions.

Not that Bluebeard’s Castle is an unproblematic work, but Gergiev and his superlative orchestral forces and vocal soloists, supported by magnificent sound quality, present the enigmatic piece with great power, leaving us, as adequate performances always do, feeling stunned and somewhat bewildered. 

The brief spoken introduction – no speaker credited – is mildly sardonic in tone, addressing us often as ‘Ladies and Gentlemen’ for no clear reason: couldn’t it be dropped? Willard White’s Bluebeard, exceptionally firm of tone, implacable but tormented without ever indulging his pain, is magnificent. He needs to be to counter the superb Elena Zhidkova, possessor of a huge but flexible voice, whose insistence on knowing what will give both of them the utmost grief is the core of the action.

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They are framed with music of Straussian lusciousness, but of an un-Strauss-like epic quality. Gergiev keeps the score on a taut rein, while allowing for all its sumptuousness and bleakness. It is unquestionably the most successful recording made by the LSO under his leadership that I have heard. But could I do without Haitink, Boulez, Kertész and their singers and orchestras? No. Truly an embarras de richesse. Michael Tanner