I have just had my first deep, start to finish communion with the glorious music of this short but immense opera. In earlier listenings I have warmed to the obvious highlights in the music. I have learned to relish the inherent passion of the Hungarian language in which it is sung. I have come to marvel at the psychoanalytic perspicacity of Béla Balázs unfathomably enigmatic poem which provides its libretto, observing how seldom libretto and music are so closely intertwined as in this masterpiece of operatic form. But this time I put the libretto down and let myself luxuriate in the grandeur of the music. The hugely expressive artistry of the two singers, Ludwig and particularly Berry. Then there's Kertész reading of the score that maintains a knife-edge balance between two threads of opposing tension, without let up, from start to end. On the one hand there is the gathering momentum towards the ineffable terror of the inevitable climax. Against this is pitched the dragging reluctance with which he tries to protect his young and too curious bride from the hidden forces of his soul, over which he has no more control than she, and whose consequences he dreads but which he cannot resist. In broad architecture this work is as close to the Romantic tradition as Bartok comes. However, careful inspection of the details shows it to be full of the characteristic devices that mark him out as the arch modernist, which he surely was. Moreover, a modernist not so much by virtue of iconoclasm, as say were Schoenberg and Stravinsky, but more because his musical spirit came from another place that only grazed the arc of Western musical evolution tangentially.
The synopsis and significance of the plot line I leave for the prospective listener to draw their own conclusions. Suffice it to say that the title I have given the review is one of any number of interpretations that the listener might arrive at as to the meaning of this strange and profoundly total work of art. I know no other versions of this opera (yet) but this is one of Decca's key releases in terms of both recording and performance. That this is a 1965 recording is frankly unbelievable. All I can say is that while there may be versions of the same quality out there I cannot conceive of any that might be better.