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Bartok : Le Château de Barbe-Bleue (coll. Decca Legends)
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BARTOK : LE CHÂTEAU DE BARBE-BLEUE (COLL. DECCA LEGENDS)
Achevé en 1911, mais créé en 1918 seulement pour cause de censure, l'unique opéra de Béla Bartók figure, aux côtés d'Elektra de Richard Strauss et de Lulu d'Alban Berg, parmi les oeuvres les plus furieusement expressionnistes de la première moitié du XXe siècle : c'est un peu le conte de Perrault revu et corrigé par Sigmund Freud ! Ce tragique poème d'amour et de sang, qui a profondément marqué l'histoire de la musique hongroise, est ici servi par la direction quasi légendaire d'Istvan Kertesz. --Michel Marmin
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Walter Berry trouve ici un rôle qui lui va comme un gant, ce qui n'est pas arrivé souvent. Plus pathétique que tragique, il est impliqué et ne fait ressentir aucune insuffisance. Christa Ludwig est immense. Son magnifique mezzo au médium et au grave chaleureux, doté d'une belle extension dans l'aigu lui permettant d'aborder certains rôles de soprano dramatique, et sa composition frémissante donnent au rôle de Judith une dimension extraordinaire. On peut imaginer que la jeune épouse de Barbe-bleue est moins mûre, moins maîtrisée, mais quelle splendeur...
Outre les qualités propres au chef Kertesz et au couple Ludwig/berry, la qualité sonore de cette version est exceptionnelle pour un enregistrement des années 60.
De plus le prix de ce CD constitue à lui même un dernier argument s'il en fallait encore un...
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Ludwig is shrewish and excruciatingly importunate as the nosy Judith. There is a sexual and sensual tension that hangs in the air in this atmospheric recording that is almost palpable. I almost feel the dank moisture of Bluebeard's Castle and can easily see the shadowy depths in my mind's eye. When the light breaks in at the 5th door, I can feel the luxuriance of Bluebeard's vast estate, his immense pride for his hard-won holdings and his tender, desperate love for his latest wife. All it seems to be to Judith is a goad to her curiosity and a reminder that this man is more than she can even begin to comprehend. Kertesz, in the liner notes, states plainly that Judith is the villain in this opus, and I have to agree. Christa Ludwig catches this woman's character. By turns, she is concerned, `loving', frightened, angry, curous... well, you name it..., while not once noticing her man's feelings and his desperation.
Walter Berry feels it, however, and he displays it for all the world to see. If this wife fails him, he is doomed to live in dark splendor, lonely from then unto the farthest reaches of Eternity. To those who are only familiar with the fairy tail, this is a different Bluebeard, though his reputation within the opera is just as bloody. It is rumored that Bluebeard is basically Bartok himself. While I cannot personally vouch for the truth of that assertion as far as Bela Bartok is concerned, I know how lonely being an artist can be. Everyone wants to know your secrets, (Naturally, I do not decry this, but much of the curiosity is morbid, as though the artist was a specimen being studied and dissected.) and curiosity of that kind can be destructive to the Self. Anyway, Kertesz imprints that basic theme deeply into the fabric of this performance.
As for the voices- Walter Berry had the requisite power and emotional weight to carry this role, and he has the best voice, for sheer voice, I've heard in the more recent recordings. (For my money, the greatest Bluebeard I've ever heard is Jerome Hines, in an old recording with Rosalind Elias as Judith and Eugene Ormandy conducting. Purists are warned, however- the Hines recording is in English.) As for Christa Ludwig- she had a spectacular voice, always in the service of the character. She's my favorite Judith, with Rosalind Elias coming up really close. What a blessing Ludwig was and is, through her recordings, for the world of music!
The sound is excellent, befitting the atmosphere of this composition perfectly. The ending, so calm, so deceivingly peaceful, will curdle your blood...
Studio recording made in Kingsway Hall, London, November 1965.
State of the art analogue stereo that received high praise when it was issued in 1966. The second digital remastering, done in 1999, has been very successful. More acute ears than mine have noted the sound of the occasional tape join and some slight hiss. I do not go searching for such things and I certainly have not heard them on my copy.
The work is performed in Hungarian as "A Kekszkallu herceg vara." [Sorry about the forms of the vowels, but Amazon has not been accepting my properly spelled foreign words recently.] The 28-line spoken verse prologue has not been recorded.
Libretto in Hungarian joined with the standard, very loose, English singing translation by Christopher Hassall. Brief memoir on the origin of this recording. Short record of a conversation between Kertesz and Ludwig in which the conductor provides his interpretation of some aspects of the story. Track list shows timings.
FORMAT: One disk - eight tracks; 59:30.
Bluebeard - Walter Berry (baritone)
Judith - Christa Ludwig (mezzo-soprano)
Istvan Kertesz with the London Symphony Orchestra.
In 1911, the thirty year-old Bartok began setting the libretto of "A Kekszkallu herceg vara" ["Duke Bluebeard's Castle"] by his friend, Bela Balasz. It was not performed until 1918. Because it is performed in opera houses and involves two people singing over an orchestra, the piece is casually lumped into the category of opera. To me, though, an opera is a sung drama or comedy--and "Duke Bluebeard's Castle" most assuredly is neither. It is at most a ritual, or perhaps no more than a mere reverie.
Just as Beethoven did a century earlier with "Fidelio," Bartok came to opera as a man of the concert platform, not of the theater. He provided little or no real drama for his singers; their characters have neither choice nor conflict. All the drama, all the color of the work, and Bartok crammed in a great deal of both, are to be found in his orchestra. The orchestra embarks on a impressive tonal voyage, but the singers merely utter their symbolic words on pitch.
And the symbolism? Well, let's face it, even for 1918 the symbols were absurdly simple-minded. Their simplicity, however, does not make them unambiguous. Here is how Kertesz is quoted: This "Bluebeard story is quite different from the fairy tale. The point is that all the blood is his blood. It means his suffering. Everything happens in the imagination". Being clearly on Bluebeard's side, he goes on to say that Judith is "horrible to him. She does not want him; she just wants to open his doors." Ludwig, naturally, is quoted as holding quite a different view.
Christa Ludwig and her then husband, Walter Berry were operatic aristocracy. They sing brilliantly here, particularly in light of the thin stuff provided by Bartok. That is not a matter of debate. Do they sing authentically? I haven't the slightest idea. The good, grey Gramophone Magazine says they lack the "texture and tang of native Hungarian singers". That may be so, although I can only wonder if a London-based English reviewer is any better judge than I am on the point.
The orchestra sounds terrific. Kertesz's approach is a little more subtle and inner-directed than is to be found in other recordings I have heard, which are given more to the boom-and-bang approach.
On the whole, this is an excellent and classic recording. I can't vouch for its authenticity but I can assure you that it will give any sympathetic listener a full hour of pleasure.
(For those who find this work particularly appealing, I suggest that it might be worth your while to look into Korngold's much-underrated Twentieth Century masterpiece, "Die Tote Stadt," which traverses some of the same territory.)
For any music-lover struggling with Bartok - say with the quartets or the first piano concerto - this, or maybe the better-known violin concerto, would be the doors through which I would suggest approaching him. Purely at the musical level the idiom is modern without being forbidding or particularly challenging. Indeed the orchestration in Bluebeard is among the most thrilling I have ever heard, and Kertesz and the LSO (then at its very peak) do it proud. This is a short drama - a story like this can only be stretched out for a finite length - and the dark and sinister sense of fear and foreboding must never relax in performance, nor do they in this performance. The story is a powerfully convincing one to me, and I do not know how many of my own sex I can speak for, although I suspect it's most of us. In my view, which is a totally impressionistic and unscientific one as far as this is concerned, a man has a mental and emotional hinterland that nobody should try to trespass on. `Nobody' means not wife, not parent, not child, not the closest friend. It is irrespective of the most intense love that may be involved, and it can come up against an equally deep-seated female urge to know the man in her life as deeply as she can. It will not, in many cases, involve anything particularly dark, dramatic or seeming to demand secrecy, but I sense rightly or wrongly that it is a basic part of the male psyche. What this whole story dramatises with intense effect is the self-destructive power of the clash between these basic male and female tendencies. Bluebeard and Judith are not individuals in my view but types, and nowhere could provide a more atmospheric background for this modern morality-play than the seemingly `transylvanian' castle where Bluebeard and Judith open the doors that should perhaps not have been opened.
It all lasts not quite an hour, and far from leaving me emotionally drained as I might have expected it left me even exhilarated by the sheer truthfulness of it, to say nothing of the quite wonderful music and the quite wonderful way it is enacted. The English version of the libretto struck me as slightly odd with its stilted idiom, thou's thine's and similar nonsense until I saw who it was by - Christopher Hassall, the man who killed Walton's Troilus and Cressida at birth or before. I suppose he was responsible for the English version of the stage-directions too, as I took leave of the drama with the wives of Bluebeard progressing along a beam of `moonshine'. As well as the main liner-note, Decca have understandably and very helpfully included a technical leaflet on the recording technology which, as I have said, is something they are very entitled to preen themselves on. I only wondered why with so much top technology at their disposal they could not have got the leaflet to fit the box a bit more exactly.