Bluebeard’s Castle

Wednesday 2 July 2014 at 7.30pm

Symphony Hall, Birmingham +44 (0)121 345 0600

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor
Michelle De Young  mezzo-soprano
Gábor Bretz  bass

Janácek: Sinfonietta 25′
Bartók: Duke Bluebeard’s Castle (sung in Hungarian with English subtitles) 59′
Listen on Spotify
Watch on YouTube

“In wars outside the blood runs redly / Here is something far more deadly / Ladies and gentlemen.” Bluebeard’s castle has seven doors. Judith is determined to open them all. But some questions are best left unanswered… Edward Gardner, music director of English National Opera, brings all his sense of theatre to Bartók’s dark fairytale, and brings up the curtain with Janácek’s ear-tingling Sinfonietta. Imagine 14 trumpeters blasting the roof off – now experience that ultimate sonic thrill in Europe’s most brilliant acoustic!

http://www.cbso.co.uk

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Review by Peter Marks, Bachtrack:

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…     “It’s a piece that seems to work well in the concert hall, though Gardner added some clever theatrical touches to the performance. The prologue was spoken by a disembodied but amplified voice (surtitles being a definite boon throughout) then singers, Michelle DeYoung and Gábor Bretz emerged through a creaking door as the ominous lower strings opening played out on stage. The castle’s sighs were creepily reproduced through speakers in the hall, whilst the offstage brass situated in the upper rear balconies provided a thrilling sense of surround sound at the astonishing point in the score when the fifth door is opened to reveal Bluebeard’s kingdom in all its glory. At this point, the collective goose pimples were palpable!

The singing was of the very highest quality. DeYoung, partly because of her register, was consistently audible even in the loudest moments of Bartók’s colourful score while Bretz was occasionally overpowered in this respect. DeYoung’s expressions were a masterclass in their own right, constantly conveying Judit’s feelings as they cycled between foreboding, desperate hope and grim realisation. Bretz was a still, sinister presence on stage, thoroughly at ease singing in his native Hungarian.

Marshalled by Gardner, the CBSO gave their all. Bartók’s score growled and glistened as it should. This was a thoroughly engaging performance in which you could have heard a pin drop in the quieter moments, not least the telling silence that followed the final note before the rapturous applause began.”

*****

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Review by Norman Stinchcombe, Birmingham Post:

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…     “Edward Gardner conducted a performance of staggering virtuosity from the CBSO, from ferocious brass and percussive power to subtle Debussy-like musical impressionism.

The radiant C major outburst as the castle’s fifth door opened – impressively supported by the thunderous organ – was exactly the coup-de-theatre Bartok wanted. Gábor Bretz (who also performed the prologue) was a young virile Duke for whom his new bride Judith’s attraction is as much erotic as pecuniary.

The Hungarian’s rock-steady bass was ideal for this largely declamatory role, but he used it with tenderness when needed. Judith can be just an annoyingly inquisitive shrew unless sung with the subtlety Michelle deYoung brought to the part, combined with a powerful voice never overwhelmed by Bartok’s huge orchestral forces.”     …

*****

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “Certainly the music is all that’s needed in a performance as fine as the one that closed the CBSO’s season at Symphony Hall, with the orchestra’s principal guest conductor, Edward Gardner. The orchestral sound was sumptuous, overwhelmingly massive when required, and other than delaying Bluebeard and Judith’s appearance on-stage until the recorded spoken prologue had finished, there was no attempt at any kind of concert-hall staging. Gábor Bretz and Michelle DeYoung stood and delivered superbly well. Bretz was not all the monstrous Bluebeard of myth, but a sadly resigned, rather touching figure, his mysterious nobility captured in the dark richness of his voice and its perfectly modulated diction; DeYoung, meanwhile, was passionate, impulsive, and naive rather than calculating.

For the great C major climax at the opening of the fifth door – the moment of the couple’s greatest closeness – the extra brass were arrayed around the auditorium. In the first half of the concert, they had been lined up behind the rest of the orchestra for Janáček’s Sinfonietta; it was a racy, celebratory performance, the perfect fizzy aperitif, for something as weighty and troubling as what followed.”

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Review by Christopher Thomas, SeenandHeard, MusicWeb:

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…     “Edward Gardner’s grasp of the opportunities for cranking up the tension of Bartók’s music were evident from the opening bars as the first vision of the castle came mysteriously into view against the ominous tones of the narrated introduction.

His ability to draw the listener into the darkness of Maeterlinck’s portrayal of the destructive frailties of the human mind were brought about through a gradual, entirely compelling yet at the same time almost imperceptible control of the deeply engrained psychological drama within both story and music, whilst the increasing sense of claustrophobia as the performance progressed proved to be masterful in its control of the shape of the music revolving, as it does, around the pivotal opening of the fifth door.

The magnificent vista over Bluebeard’s kingdom revealed by the opening of that fifth door was portrayed with breathtaking power by the orchestra and additional brass, whose antiphonal placing behind the stalls lent the musical picture an added sense of magnificence.

Colorado born soprano Michelle DeYoung emerged as an entirely convincing Judit, with the huge dynamic range of her voice capturing every nuance of the musical drama, at the same time finding the human frailty, initial wonder and the ultimate transformation of that wonder to escalating horror at the depths of Bluebeard’s inner darkness with a vivid sense of atmosphere and presence.”     …

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Review by Hilary Finch, Times ££

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