BARTOK: Bluebeard’s Castle – Laszlo Polgar/ Ildiko Komlosi/ Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Ivan Fischer – Channel Classics

by | Feb 24, 2012 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews

BARTOK: Bluebeard’s Castle (complete opera) – Laszlo Polgar (Bluebeard)/ Ildiko Komlosi (Judith)/ Budapest Festival Orchestra/ Ivan Fischer  – Channel Classics multichannel SACD 90311, 55:27 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] *****:
Bartok’s 1911 opera (premiered only in 1918), his only one, contains some of his most imaginative and richly colored music. Still lingering under the impressions of Debussy, the music revels in an atmospheric reverie that practically no other score of his does. The story, strangely surreal even at the beginning when it really shouldn’t be, employs a dramatic foreshadowing that has us quaking in our shoes wanting to scream out to Judith, the heroine, to “get out of there!” But like a fatalistic protagonist she investigates, door by door (seven in all) each room in her new husband’s castle, only to end up transported to “immortality” along with the Duke’s other wives. How they got there we are never told, nor of the nature of their immortal status. One only feels that whatever it was/is that is keeping and/or putting them there, it isn’t good. You really can’t blame the Duke as he constantly warns his new bride to proceed with caution, but curiosity pulls her toward her doom/destiny like a tidal wave. Or does the Duke know that by forbidding and cautioning her he is only encouraging her final destiny…this is but one of many questions raised and never answered by this magnificent and haunting work.
There have been many good recordings of the piece over the years but each has at a least minor flaw. With only three main items in the recorded inventory to keep track of, Bluebeard, Judith, and the orchestra, that is a little surprising. But the roles are tough, especially Judith, which is where we see most of the flaws in performance. Here Bluebeard is spectacular, and I can’t imagine a more viscerally exciting performance than that given by Laszlo Polgar.  Ildiko Komlosi, like others in this role, has a vibrato that can be excessively wide and annoying, and it is only as she settles into the opera that it comes under better control. Her high notes are spectacular, and her grasp of the overall vocal demands of the role spot on; it’s the lesser moments where some of the flaws come in. But it’s also about as good as any on disc.
Fischer, a seasoned Bartokian, recorded this work on Philips in 2002, released in 2003, and Channel’s re-mastering is deeper and more revealing than the original. You hear a lot of detail and yet still get a wonderful balance among singers and orchestra. The latter gives some blazingly explosive climaxes that will rock your roof with the volume turned up. It’s good to have this reading back, in better shape than ever, passionate, intense, and beautifully remastered.
—Steven Ritter

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