Esa-Pekka Salonen / Philharmonia Orchestra

Bartók: Bluebeard's Castle

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Béla Bartók's one-act opera, Duke Bluebeard's Castle, is one of his most compelling scores, and this Signum Classics recording by Esa-Pekka Salonen and the Philharmonia Orchestra offers a polished performance that is worth hearing several times. Curiously, the prologue is delivered in English by Juliet Stevenson, though the opera itself is sung in Hungarian by John Tomlinson as Bluebeard and Michelle DeYoung as Judith. Their voices are perfectly audible, though the orchestra in many places is somewhat louder, and the resonance of the recording space exaggerates this imbalance to some extent. Still, the orchestra's lush sonorities and vibrant harmonies are worth hearing clearly, and the slight loss of vocal presence is minor when compared to the benefit of hearing every note. This is a psychological drama with little stage action and it has many passages of almost dreamlike exchanges between Bluebeard and Judith. Yet Salonen draws out powerful expressions from the singers and the orchestra that more than compensate for the lack of activity. But apart from viewing a staged production, this opera can be appreciated almost entirely on its musical merits, and this recording is quite enjoyable when heard that way.

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