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Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle / Fischer-Dieskau, Seefried, Kubelik

Release Date: 06/10/2014 
Label:  Audite   Catalog #: 95626   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Béla Bartók
Performer:  Dietrich Fischer-DieskauIrmgard Seefried
Conductor:  Rafael Kubelik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This previously unreleased performance, recorded live at the 1962 Lucerne Festival and sung in German (rather than Hungarian), is an eerie, riveting experience that, strangely, does not bring any other to mind. The Kertesz on Decca remains ideal in every way, including its use of Hungarian and the best all-around singing; in an entirely different manner, Boulez’s Sony reading features a chillingly right Tatyana Troyanos and a scalpel-like examination of Bartók’s textures (his DG performance has an endlessly haughty Judith–the last thing this opera needs); and the old Dorati (Mercury) performance may be the most echt-Hungarian and has a certain folk-like quality and energy that is unique (it’s the quickest performance available). But Read more this present one is the most tactile. It never overwhelms, but you can always feel the humidity, the claustrophobia, and the inexorable creepiness and doom.

The odd casting of Mozartean Irmgard Seefried as Judith is at first puzzling: it requires a pulling back of the orchestral wave every so often, which doesn’t always work (and her high-C at the Fifth Door is an absolute mess of a squeak); but on the better hand, we hear a girlish Judith (see Norman, above) for whom we feel badly at first, until we realize that her sweet pouting is utterly crazy and fanatical and she has tied herself into a knot she can’t untie. And when she realizes that it’s all over–at the lake of tears–we can hear her heart sink. Kubelik builds to this point by underlining the weird “blood” motif every time it appears, so when it disappears, and she realizes that the murder has been taken over by sorrow and misery, her naivete has nowhere to go.

Fischer-Dieskau, who commercially recorded the role under Fricsay (also in German, but with minor cuts in the performance) and Sawallisch (in Hungarian), initially seems like his over-enunciating self. But in fact he is a Duke, and a dismal, hopeless one at that. He states his case to Judith honestly, he pleads honestly, his resignation is honest. His voice is at its most beautiful as well.

With Kubelik’s lack of bombast–he’s just an illustrator and storyteller, leading us on unsuspectingly–this is a chilling experience. The 50-year-old sound is good enough, but again, one wishes it had been sung in the original. The spoken Prologue is not performed. This can’t be a first or only recording of this remarkable opera–that still goes to Kertesz with Christa Ludwig and Walter Berry in perfect voice and mood that goes beyond performance; but it’s a fascinating take on a masterpiece.

-- Robert Levine, ClassicsToday.com
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Works on This Recording

Bluebeard's Castle, Op. 11/Sz 48 by Béla Bartók
Performer:  Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Baritone), Irmgard Seefried (Soprano)
Conductor:  Rafael Kubelik
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1911/1918; Budapest, Hungary 

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