BARTOK: Bluebeard’s Castle, Cantata Profana – New Symphony Orchestra of London/Walter Susskind (conductor) /Judith Hellwigh and Endreh Koreh soloists – Praga Digitals CD  PRD 250 349 300P (7/14/17) TT: 81:55 ***1/2

A fine performance of this dark but interesting work

Praga Digitals has given us a new recording of Bartók’s only opera, although some call it a ‘mystery play’.  The program has only 2 singers, a husband and wife, with the story centering around the wife wanting to know more about her new husband.

Composed in 1911, the libretto for Bluebeard’s Castle was written by Béla Balázs, a poet and friend of the composer, and is written in Hungarian, based on the French literary tale “La Barbe bleue” by Charles Perrault. (The storyline—admittedly dark—is of the newly-wed couple, the husband’s enjoinment to “not look behind that one door”, and the results when his wife does exactly that.) On this disc it is performed in Hungarian, which is the way this work is usually presented.

The performances and recorded sound are first rate, but the disc notes don’t contain the lyrics in English making this opera a tough slog if you don’t know what is being sung. If you aren’t up on your Hungarian, you can try to find the translation online, or just sit back and enjoy the music.

As I’ve come to expect from Praga Digitals, the recording is excellent, with nice capturing of the two vocalists, and a clean and realistic rendering of the orchestra, with smooth, velvety strings and firm bass. The stereo image is excellent.

The disc also offers Bartók’s Cantata Profana, performed in English. Written in 1930. The source texts which Bartók used to create the libretto were two Romanian colinde that he collected from Transylvania in April 1914. Colinde are ballads which are sung during the Christmas season, although many colinde have no connection to the Christian Nativity and are believed to have their origin in pre-Christian times.

This too is a fine recording and performance, and it’s nice to have a lesser known Bartók work on the disc.

Recommended for the performance and the music, but the liner notes really should have the translation

—Mel Martin