Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Valery Gergiev, cond; Elena Zhidkova (
); Willard White (
); London SO
LSO LIVE 685 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 58:53
class="ARIAL12">Text and Translation) Live: London 1/2009
I had not heard Gergiev apply his magic to Bartók before, and the results are stunning. Everything is perfection: given the right conductor, the LSO is still a great orchestra; Gergiev brings out its best, in solos, ensemble, balances, from
shattering climaxes. The singers are superb, and superbly directed; both supply rich, potent voices that produce highly dramatic portrayals without ever sacrificing beauty of tone. White is one of the outstanding bass-baritones of this era, and he has never demonstrated it more vividly, unleashing huge waves of perfectly controlled tone. I am less familiar with Zhidkova; her shining mezzo illuminates the performance. They invest their roles with sympathetic personalities; seldom have Bluebeard and his Judith seemed so believable, so real. He is less threatening than usual, she less frightened, yet their emerging troubles are every bit as riveting. This is drama without melodrama, shorn of the hysterics common to many a
. Gergiev makes this early orchestral score sound more like the mature Bartók than it usually does;
he manages to do so is part of that magic.
The performance is in Magyar but White delivers the opening monologue in Peter Bartók’s English translation. The recorded sound is amazingly successful in balancing voices and orchestra; neither is ever slighted, and there are many moments where details of the accompaniment are clarified as never before. The CD sound is gorgeous; the SACD is smoother but a bit smothering; I prefer the slight edge of the CD. Surround sound envelops the listener in the castle as each door opens.
Are there any nits? I can’t attest to the accuracy of the sung Magyar from these Jamaican and Russian singers. The recording has an exceptionally wide dynamic range—perhaps too much so. If you set the gain during the opening monologue and early music, you will be blasted sky high by the climaxes. This is not uncommon in Gergiev performances, so it’s hard to know how much is the conductor and how much the engineers. Some listeners may regret this gleaming performance’s lack of Hungarian flavor (so many of the great recordings have had Hungarian connections), but I’m delighted to hear it this way, too—as with the Emerson playing Bartók’s quartets—to complement my three previous favorites: Eötvös, Kertész, and Fricsay. This could be your first and only
, but I recommend having more than one.
FANFARE: James H. North
Works on This Recording
Bluebeard's Castle, Op. 11/Sz 48 by Béla Bartók
Elena Zhidkova (Mezzo Soprano),
Willard White (Bass Baritone)
London Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century
Written: 1911/1918; Budapest, Hungary
Length: 58 Minutes 6 Secs.
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