Bartók Duke Bluebeard's Castle
I'd quite forgotten what a marvellous performance this is—even though, when it comes to Bartok's speech-derived vocal inflexions, native Hungarians have the edge (and in that respect, Ferencsik's 1956 team is probably the best). Still, the crux of the drama, its emotional thrust and potent symbolic allusions, all are unequivocally realized by Siegmund Nimsgern, Tatiana Troyanos and Pierre Boulez. Troyanos's Judith has more credibility than most. For example, that wonderful passage 3'21'' into the ''First Door'', when Bluebeard asks Judith why she must open all the doors, and she responds with a confession of love—is seethingly intense, although the frenzied string writing that tails her candid ''because I love you'' rather loses focus in all the steam. Yet Boulez captures to perfection the ambiguous nature of Bartok's heated response, whether Judith really is in love—or just plain curious. Again, at the ''Third Door'' (''Now behold my spacious kingdom''), the impact is colossal, even though digital technology would have stretched the dynamic curve even further. Judith's triumphant, heroically sustained C sounds more genuinely wonder-struck than any other on record, while Boulez's pacing is ideally judged—in fact, throughout this memorable performance, he balances the constituent parts of Bartok's rich tonal palette with a meticulous ear, patiently scaling the score's many texturally complex climaxes. Nimsgern is a tortured, yet commanding Bluebeard, vocally excellent and interpretatively compelling, although the recording does sometimes lend his voice an untypically cavernous quality.
As to CD competition, I would single out the Bluebeards of Sawallisch, Dorati and Kertesz as the best alternative interpretations (the last will shortly be reissued at mid price, as have been the others); and yet if pressured into choosing, I would probably opt for this latest reissue—not only because it seems to me the best sung, but also on account of Boulez's dramatic, psychological and musical perceptiveness. It is one of his finest recordings and if he ever decides to re-record it (say, as part of his current Bartok series for DG), then this Sony production will certainly prove a very hard act to follow. The actual recording is hugely accommodating within the sonic limitations of the period (there are occasional traces of over-modulation), and the CD comes complete with texts and translations. Very strongly recommended.