Aureole etc.




Golden Age singers

Nimbus on-line




Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


DVD REVIEW
RECORDING OF THE MONTH


Some items
to consider

 


Enjoy the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra wherever you are. App available for iOS and Android


Tudor 7188


Vaughan Williams Symphony 3 etc.


Lyrita New Recording


Lyrita Premiere Recordings

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage

Lyrita 4CDs £16 incl.postage


Decca Phase 4 - 40CDs


Judith Bailey, George Lloyd


BAX Orchestral pieces


CASKEN Violin Concerto

Schumann Symphonies Rattle


Complete Brahms
Bargain price

 

 

 

 

alternatively AmazonUK AmazonUS

 

Béla BARTÓK (1881-1945)
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (A kékszakállú Herceg Vára), Op. 11/Sz 48 (1911/18)  
Duke Bluebeard – Kolos Kováts (bass)
Judith – Sylvia Sass (soprano)
London Philharmonic Orchestra/Sir Georg Solti
Director: Miklós Szinetár
Picture: 4:3/NTSC/Region 0
Sound: Dolby Digital 5.1/LPCM stereo
Subtitles: English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese. Only Prologue text included
rec. 1981, DVD release 2008
DECCA 0743254 [56:00]
Experience Classicsonline


First things first. This is a 1981 Unitel studio performance, the singers lip-synching to Decca’s audio recording with Solti and the LPO (nla). These hybrids are far from ideal, as I discovered with Rolf Liebermann’s Orpheus in der Unterwelt (see review). That 1960s performance is frankly risible at times and the mono soundtrack is very disappointing. Thankfully this Bluebeard is much more compelling, both musically and dramatically.

In the 1970s Hungarian-born soprano Sylvia Sass was touted as the next Callas but after some promising recitals, recordings and stage performances she dropped out of sight. The similarities with Callas – according to those who saw Sass perform – are striking. She certainly has a dramatic intensity that recalls Callas at her smouldering best but, alas, she also has the latter’s wayward voice. I recently sampled Sass’s Hungaroton disc of Strauss lieder and found her occluded tone and general unsteadiness very distressing.

Fortunately the Bluebeard audio recording with Solti dates from her earlier career, so she is in much better voice. Not having seen her perform I was curious as to whether the comparisons with Callas were accurate or just wishful thinking. After all there have been many pretenders to the throne – remember Magda Oliviero and Elena Souliotis – and they didn’t last very long either.

This production, designed by Gábor Bachmann and directed by Miklós Szinetár, first appeared on VHS, so picture quality could be a problem. As for the soundtrack Decca have wisely chosen to retain the PCM stereo option, which experience suggests is more dynamic and involving than compressed audio formats. For those who have the multi-channel kit there is always Dolby Surround, although I have yet to be convinced this is worth the outlay.


The action begins at the vaguely cloacal entrance to the castle and proceeds into a dark and claustrophobic interior space. It really does seem as if the characters are being drawn into a literal and metaphorical darkness, ‘solemn, solemn, joyless Bluebeard’ glowering at his frightened bride as they enter.

Sass has real presence, her high cheekbones, long, dark tresses and flowing robes strangely druidic against the surrounding stone. As she ventures over the ‘icy threshold’ her eyes dart left and right, in a convincing show of uncertainty and fear. The Hungarian bass Kolos Kováts isn’t particularly menacing – except in a comic-book villain sort of way – but at least he has a pleasingly dark voice.

The splendid Decca audio track is vivid and thrustful but the lip-synching is a bit of a distraction; Kováts seems to handle it better than Sass but such is the power of the piece that it soon ceases to be a problem. The camerawork – mainly close-ups and medium close-ups – is suitably oppressive, and when Judith presses herself against the first black door it is as if she is embracing darkness itself.


This first room – the torture chamber – throws out a deep red light, so as Judith recoils she appears to be drenched in blood. In the second chamber – the armoury – the spears and other weapons are all tipped with blood, and in the third – the treasury – there is a subtle change of light as Judith discovers the jewels are bleeding too. And all is not what it seems in the secret garden – the fourth chamber – where the flowers have all the charm of a funeral wreath.

There’s a dark sexual undercurrent to this opera and it’s underscored in this production; each time Judith opens a door it seems to give Bluebeard an erotic thrill. In the secret garden he can barely contain himself as he grasps Judith’s hands in his, just as the carnations begin to bleed. It’s an extraordinary moment and very adroitly done.


Of course it’s the fifth door – Bluebeard’s vast kingdom – that elicits those crushing organ chords and Judith’s scream of awe and disbelief. She is subsumed by white light, Bluebeard revolving slowly in silhouette against the brightness. For the first time one feels the visuals are a little contrived. Fortunately it’s only a temporary lapse and the sixth chamber – the bright, still waters – is really quite chilling. Bluebeard is framed in the ornate Gothic doorway with its carved transom and beckons to Judith as if calling her in from the light.

Judith plays the coquette as she embraces Bluebeard and asks him who he has loved before her. Sass is so alluring it’s hard to see how the duke could resist. And of course he can’t. Sass has some very obvious lip-synch problems on her high notes as she demands Bluebeard open the seventh door. At that point he seems to become one with the surrounding darkness, leaving us in no doubt as to Judith’s fate.

In the final chamber, a stylised mausoleum, Bluebeard’s former wives emerge from the lighted mist and we cut to Judith weighed down with a tall, heavy crown as she moves slowly to join them. Muttering ‘darkness, darkness’ the duke disappears into the rain-slashed gloom. It may sound a tad portentous on paper but in practise this all works very well indeed.

If you don’t mind the miming and the slightly dated camerawork and sets this Bluebeard is as gripping as it gets. Admittedly some of the visual conceits work better than others and although Sass is a fairly convincing actress her voice sounds pinched under pressure. Kováts is perhaps a little under-characterised, but vocally he’s steady enough.

Picture quality isn’t up to current standards – it has the soft, grainy look of VHS at times – and there aren’t any ‘extras’ either. That said the sound is very good indeed, full of detail and bite without ever sounding strident. The disc is well cued and the menus are elegant and easy to navigate – rivals please note. The subtitles are very crisp and clear.

Dan Morgan



 


Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb


Donate and get a free CD

New Releases

Naxos Classical

Hyperion

Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
Alto
Arcodiva
Atoll
CDAccord
Cameo Classics
Centaur
Hallé
Hortus
Lyrita
Nimbus
Northern Flowers
Redcliffe
Sheva
Talent
Toccata Classics


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample
 


EXPLORE MUSICWEB INTERNATIONAL

Making a Donation to MusicWeb

Writing CD reviews for MWI

About MWI
Who we are, where we have come from and how we do it.

Site Map

How to find a review

How to find articles on MusicWeb
Listed in date order

Review Indexes
   By Label
      Select a label and all reviews are listed in Catalogue order
   By Masterwork
            Links from composer names (eg Sibelius) are to resource pages with links to the review indexes for the individual works as well as other resources.

Themed Review pages

Jazz reviews

 

Discographies
   Composer
      Composer surveys
   National
      Unique to MusicWeb -
a comprehensive listing of all LP and CD recordings of given works
.
Prepared by Michael Herman

The Collector’s Guide to Gramophone Company Record Labels 1898 - 1925
Howard Friedman

Book Reviews

Complete Books
We have a number of out of print complete books on-line

Interviews
With Composers, Conductors, Singers, Instumentalists and others
Includes those on the Seen and Heard site

Nostalgia

Nostalgia CD reviews

Records Of The Year
Each reviewer is given the opportunity to select the best of the releases

Monthly Best Buys
Recordings of the Month and Bargains of the Month

Comment
Arthur Butterworth Writes

An occasional column

Phil Scowcroft's Garlands
British Light Music articles

Classical blogs
A listing of Classical Music Blogs external to MusicWeb International

Reviewers Logs
What they have been listening to for pleasure

Announcements

 

Community
Bulletin Board

Give your opinions or seek answers

Reviewers
Pat and present

Helpers invited!

Resources
How Did I Miss That?

Currently suspended but there are a lot there with sound clips


Composer Resources

British Composers

British Light Music Composers

Other composers

Film Music (Archive)
Film Music on the Web (Closed in December 2006)

Programme Notes
For concert organizers

External sites
British Music Society
The BBC Proms
Orchestra Sites
Recording Companies & Retailers
Online Music
Agents & Marketing
Publishers
Other links
Newsgroups
Web News sites etc

PotPourri
A pot-pourri of articles

MW Listening Room
MW Office

Advice to Windows Vista users  
Questionnaire    
Site History  
What they say about us
What we say about us!
Where to get help on the Internet
CD orders By Special Request
Graphics archive
Currency Converter
Dictionary
Magazines
Newsfeed  
Web Ring
Translation Service

Rules for potential reviewers :-)
Do Not Go Here!
April Fools




Return to Review Index

Untitled Document


Reviews from previous months
Join the mailing list and receive a hyperlinked weekly update on the discs reviewed. details
We welcome feedback on our reviews. Please use the Bulletin Board
Please paste in the first line of your comments the URL of the review to which you refer.