Mika Kares, Szilvia Vörös; Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra/Susanna Mälkki
BIS BIS-2388 (CD/SACD) 60:30 mins
Given its absence of stage action, Bartók’s symbolist masterpiece goes well on disc, just as it does in the concert hall. Recorded live (with a bit of studio topping up) at the Helsinki Music Centre in January 2020, this latest version has a number of pluses. With the Hungarian libretto, the nationality of both the Judith (Szilvia Vörös) and the Prologue’s narrator (Géza Szilvay) is a clear asset, while the Finnish language – the native tongue of Mika Kares’s Bluebeard – turns out to be related to Bartók’s Hungarian. Both singers possess the scale, range and richness required to take on his sizable orchestration: the orchestra, indeed, almost represents a third character in the opera – that of Bluebeard’s castle itself.
Yet equally both Kares and Vörös offer a subtle, understated approach. Founded on his considerable depth of tone, Kares’s interpretation combines grandeur with a certain vulnerability, helping him to achieve a direct emotional response to the text and the music. Similarly, there’s a warmth and even a radiance to Vörös’s quietly determined Judith.
As well as conveying the piece’s taut structure and the orchestral writing’s sheer sweep, conductor Susanna Mälkki seeks out the detail of Bartók’s tone-painting, exploring, in her assured, potent account, the work’s sense of psychological darkness and secrecy.