Béla Bartók (1881-1945)
Duke Bluebeard’s Castle Op. 11
Cantata profana Sz 94
Hertha Topper, Dietrich Fischer Dieskau, Helmut Krebs
RIAS Kammerchor, Chor der St. Hedwigs-Kathedrale
Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin Ferenc Fricsay
rec. 1951/58. Mono/Stereo ADD
Deutsche Grammophon 457756-2 
Following hot on the heels of an inimitable Kodaly disc this new Bartók/Fricsay offering promises to be a similar authorative issue that confirms the late lamented Hungarian conductor’s white-heat conducting of his countrymen’s unique music. The brooding ‘Duke Bluebeard’s Castle’ has received a number of excellent recordings, one must recall Decca’s classic Kertesz version (another short-lived Hungarian) which has resurfaced in superb sound on the Legends series. Perhaps, the version on offer here may appear to be a non-starter as it is sung in the German language but for me it takes nothing away from a deeply intense and poetical reading that stands aside as one of the supreme examples of Bartókian art. Fischer Dieskau is suitably melancholic as Duke Bluebeard, he eclipses Walter Berry’s sturdy yet unimaginative performance for Kertesz with ease. I was also immensely moved by Hertha Topper’s Judith who sings her part with inflammatory passion and if not the equal of Christa Ludwig she is certainly a powerful and persuasive advocate on emotional terms. Throughout the dialogues, Fricsay’s conducting is like a man possessed, the orchestral playing is utterly magnificent, woodwinds, strings, all departments play with a demonic intensity for the charismatic conductor. It is a version to treasure and with a crystal clear recording refurbished to perfection by DG, this Bluebeard should be the primary recommendation albeit the German connection.
The coupling to this magnificent interpretation is a similarly white-hot interpretation of the ‘Cantata Profana’. Although the 1951 recording may be slightly fuzzy and constricted in places there is still a definite stamp of authority on proceedings. Fischer-Dieskau is joined by Helmut Krebs who sings with great ardor throughout. There are also some potent contributions from the two Berlin choirs and the rousy ending makes a convincing end to what is a quite wonderful disc. Libretto and texts are in three languages whilst there is also a poignant photograph of the already frail Fricsay in all his commanding power. No lover of Bartók’s music or of modern 20th century classics should be without this exceptional issue.
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