Bartok and Vaughan Williams CD reviews

NORMAN STINCHCOMBE ENTHUSES OVER NEW RELEASES OF BARTOK AND VAUGHAN WILLIAMS


BARTOK BLUEBEARD'S CASTLE: Relyea / DeYoung / Bergen Philharmonic / Gardner (Chandos CD / SACD CHSA 5237) ★★★★★

In 2014 American mezzo-soprano Michelle DeYoung sang Judit in a concert performance of Bluebeard's Castle with the CBSO under Edward Gardner. She was magnificent, combining intelligence, passion and fearless singing – a feat she repeats here. Her compatriot John Relyea is a sonorous firm-toned Bluebeard, not as biting as some Slav basses but one who makes a convincingly romantic husband for his young fatally inquisitive bride. The heart of this opera comes when the fifth of the mysterious castle's seven doors is opened. The opera uses Bartok's biggest orchestra and here he unleashes it to spectacular effect. On disc, stripped of scenic effects, the music is all. The combination of the Bergen players skill, Gardner's masterly pacing and the Chandos engineers' expertise delivers the perfect musical frisson. Overall the performance – sung in Hungarian with the Prologue spoken by Pál Mácsai – is excellent. The quality booklet comes with full libretto and translation.

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS THE SONG OF LOVE: Whately / Williams / Vann (Albion Records) ALBCD036) ★★★★★

Vaughan Williams' song cycle The House of Life was premiered in 1904 by a contralto but recordings of the set, which includes the popular Silent Noon, have been monopolized by men. English mezzo Kitty Whately's performance was worth the wait: smooth and beautiful tone, clarity of diction and a really individual approach to each song. Roderick Williams' firm and mellifluous baritone features on French and German songs amongst other rarities. William Vann's accompaniment is commendable here and on Time and Space – Songs by Holst and Vaughan Williams (ALBCD038) ★★★★ where he joins Williams in Holst's Six Songs and Vaughan Williams' Folk Songs from the Eastern Counties and Hampshire. Soprano Mary Bevan and Jack Liebeck perform the lovely but rarely-heard Four Songs for Voice and Violin by Holst. Albion's Journey (ALBCD039) ★★★ is a 24 track bargain-price sampler from the label's Vaughan Williams song recordings with compositions from 1878 to 1943.

Norman Stinchcombe

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