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Bartok: Bluebeard's Castle
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on 10 July 2006
You might think that the market does not really need another Tomlinson Bluebeard, after the recent release of the Proms performance from last year. This version really adds something to previous performances and deserves a place in your collection, even if you have the any of the earlier versions.

I was fortunate enough to see this live last year at the Bridgewater Hall, Manchester. It was a totally electifying performance and compared more than favourably with the fully staged Covent Garden performance in 2002. The opera, at about an hour, is just about the right length for building up the sense of dread in this story without allowing the listener to get used to it. The Manchester performance captured that feeling exactly through its carefully measured pace and skillful staging.

I was sceptical that the recording could recapture the horror of Judith's inevitable doom. One listening was enough to confirm that this fear was ungrounded. Chandos have managed to recapture the dark, brooding atmosphere of this opera. The performances are exceptional - Tomlinson has grown this role and made it his own. The fact that this is in English rather than Hungarian adds to the atmosphere. Every word is clear so that you can follow the unfolding drama without the distraction of following a libretto.

I was hesitant about buying yet another Bluebeard, but this performance has enough to offer to justify its place in any collection. If you do not have one already, this is a good, accessible entry point. If you know this piece well already you will appreciate a great interpretation.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A beautifully shaded performance by Tomlinson and Burgess, extracting the utmost from the text. Throughout, Tomlinson plays Bluebeard with subtlety: the menace in the query 'Frightened?' when the first doors are opened is conveyed in tones of sorrow and reluctance. Burgess tackles her difficult role brilliantly, catching both the petulance when Bluebeard refuses to give her the keys, and her love for Bluebeard, this man she is attempting to understand. The highest praise also for Farnes, who brings out the bittersweet and very Hungarian qualities of Bartok's score.

As for the choice of English: there are admitted problems in translating a text that has to be expressed in Hungarian speech rhythms to fit the music. There are occasionally rather clumsy word patterns, but this is a small price to pay for a truly great performance in the tradition set by Solti on disc many years ago.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Apart from the language advantage of this recording, for an English speaker, the performance as a whole is haunting. There is a richness to the sound that reflects the expressive style which Bartok used at the time (relatively early in his career). Tomlinson is outstanding, his voice seems absolutely made for this part. Using him as the narrator/minstrel at the start is also a great bonus. From the moment he utters the first words (as the narrator) to the closing of the opera with this last sung words, he holds the work as a master just as it should be. Sally Burgess brings the appropriate level of charm as well as histrionics that her part requires. The Orchestra sounds beautiful and the conductor delivers the well judged speeds and light and shade and when required the massive sound of the huge orchestra (eg the opening of the 5th door, which includes Judith's stunned cry)

For me the icing on the cake is being able to hear the "psychodrama" of the plot progressing and unfolding by hearing the libretto in English translation. An extra dimension of realisation takes the appreciation of this work to new heights.

So .. even if you already have a favourite recording sung in the original Hungarian, this Tomlinson recording is an essential addition for that extra dimension.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2011
Ah the old dilemma - is it ok to listen to opera in translation, or can it only be experienced properly in the original language?

In this case, I have no hesitation in recommending the former - Bluebeard is a conversation and the words are all-important. So, if like me, you don't speak Hungarian, don't wrestle with your conscience but try this. Here, the libretto has been very well adapted by Lloyd Davies, is not at all clunky, and allows both singers to express their emotions.

Musically, there is plenty to recommend - fans of Bartok who don't know this piece will find much that is familiar, and Tomlinson and the orchestra are on great form. My one reservation with this recording is that Burgess sounds slightly strained in some passages and I can't decide whether this is meant to convey Judith's mounting sense of fear, or a genuine difficulty. Hence only four stars.

In spite of that, this sinister tale is passionately told and I always want to listen again.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Chandos have produced a very fine recording of Bartok's Bluebeard. Vividly recorded with great orchestral support John Tomlinson is a fine Bluebeard, if a little on the mature side. Others have raved about this version being in English and it was great to hear - the first time. The problem is that it makes sense of all the versions in Hungarian of which there are several excellent version. My instinct is to return to them, those from Kertesz, Solti and Ivan Fischer. The sound of the narrator in Solti's version is so wonderfully atmospheric that John Tomlinson, performing as narrator too, can't compete.

One other issue was a minor gripe: the groans at the sixth door and the first door sound anything but human, indeed they sound like someone blowing down a toilet roll amplified: it's very off putting. Despite these minor gripes this is a very fine version but falls short of the very finest. Still recommended; it's always worth having an English version with your favourite Hungarian.
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