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Recorded live in Vienna in 2011 with the Philharmonia Orchestra under Esa-Pekka Salonen and featuring John Tomlinson in the opera’s title role, this disc promises much on paper. Apart from a handful of intense dramatic moments, however, most of which are down to the orchestra, the result is disappointing. Its weak point is language: the opening narration is delivered in English while the rest of the opera is sung in Magyar, highlighting the fact that this disc has been made for an English-speaking market. Tomlinson and his Judith, Michelle DeYoung, both have wonderful voices, but their understandable handicap when it comes to colouring the subtler linguistic nuances of Béla Balázs’ libretto hampers this performance. At times, their delivery borders on vocalise, rather than carrying the text with conviction. (My benchmark is Iván Fischer’s recording with Laszló Polgar as Bluebeard opposite Ildikó Komlósi: a direct comparison of the two discs makes instructive listening.) The Philharmonia fares slightly better, though Bartók’s finely-wrought orchestration sounds more one-dimensional than it might, and consequently lacks real punch.

Francis Muzzu Read the full review on Agora Classica

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