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Béla Bartók- Bluebeard's Castle

Laszló Polgár (baritone); Ildikó Komlósi (mezzo-soprano)
Budapest Festival Orchestra - Iván Fischer
Channel Classics - SA 90311(SACD)
Reference Recording - Ludwig/Berry/Kertesz (Decca)

This is an important re-release of a 2003 recording that originally appeared on Philips. Iván Fischer (who speaks the opera’s prologue quite beautifully and poetically) is certainly one of the preeminent Bartók conductors today, and this release fills out his discography of the composer’s works. Most of those other recordings still languish on Philips, but since other releases for that label have reappeared on Channel Classics, hopefully his previous Bartók titles will also.

Bluebeard’s Castle, as has often been said, employs three characters: Bluebeard, Judith, and the castle. Laszló Polgár is a magnificent Bluebeard: proud, dark-toned, steady throughout his range (after a somewhat edgy start), and very moving in his final apostrophe to his various wives. As Judith, Ildikó Komlósi has a powerful voice, which makes her emotional outbursts very exciting: her demands for the keys, for example, and the high C at the opening of the fifth door hold no terrors for her. But the basic timbre of the voice isn’t particularly attractive, and like so many singers today she has a vibrato that at times becomes distracting.

Fischer and his team, of course, portray the castle, as it were, and they are magnificent. The velvety strings at the opening, the spooky clarinets, the keyboard xylophone borrowed for this recording to capture the sound of Bluebeard’s armory–all are wonderfully evocative, and the playing and pacing are just about perfect. So is Channel Classics’ engineering, capturing plenty of detail while retaining ideal balances between the orchestra and the singers. I don’t know what they did to the original sonics, but the disc sounds much better now than it did back in 2003. This is a very fine recording, an important addition to the Bartók discography. Channel Classics provides the original
Hungarian text plus an English translation.

David Hurwitz, Classics Today