Valery Gergiev

Béla Bartók: Bluebeard's Castle [Hybrid SACD]

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Because of its essentially static dramatic action, Bartók's only opera, Bluebeard's Castle, is perhaps as well suited to recordings and concert performances as to the opera house, and it has fared wonderfully well on disc. This outstanding version, with Valery Gergiev leading the London Symphony Orchestra and mezzo-soprano Elena Zhidkova and bass-baritone Willard White, deserves a place among the very finest recordings of the opera. Gergiev's reading is well balanced; he doesn't hold back on the primal violence of its darker moments, but his is essentially a sweepingly Romantic take on the score. Throughout, the London Symphony Orchestra's playing is absolutely clean, and its tone is blazingly radiant and luxurious; Bartók's gorgeous, somber orchestration is revealed in all its variegated richness. Gergiev's attentiveness to details of articulation and dynamics accentuate the composer's careful structuring of the score, and the contrast between the scenes is strikingly dramatic. The only reservation is that in the final scene of the Seventh Door, Gergiev fails to bring out the full weight of its horrific meaning. White is a darkly imposing Bluebeard, appropriately mature and emotionally resonant. His dire account of the spoken Prologue (in English) beautifully sets the scene for the drama that follows. Zhidkova's silky mezzo-soprano is substantial but agile, an ideal foil for White's dark, earthy gravity. Her impetuosity and strength make hers a Judith who could credibly stand up to her powerful husband. Their interactions have the immediacy and spontaneity that are the hallmarks of the best live performances. Although this is a live recording of a concert performance, the sound of the LSO SACD is immaculately clean and transparent, allowing subtleties of the orchestration to come across with exquisite clarity.

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