Bluebeard's Castle from English Symphony Orchestra


English Symphony Orchestra online at Wyastone Leys *****

Bartok's early opera of threatening mystery and questions which should not be asked actually has very little action, and perhaps works better in concert performance.
This is certainly the case in this English Symphony Orchestra presentation, Kenneth Woods' economical, almost austere, and always well=paced conducting building huge intensity from his socially-distanced players in a resourceful orchestral reduction. The concert-hall at Wyastone Leys is the perfect venue, both airy and acoustically compact (even through my puny laptop speakers), though, as with all streamed relays, we are forced to watch what the admittedly brilliant camera-team want us to see, rather than having the freedom for our eyes to wander over the performing area.
There are only two characters, the enigmatic Duke Bluebeard and his trusting but latently insecure new young bride Judith; they are sung here by David Stout and April Fredrick, happily reunited after their brilliant collaboration in the SOMM recording from the ESO and Woods of John Joubert's Jane Eyre.
Perhaps there are similarities between the two operas, the master with a secret, the arrival of the ingenue young woman; and the brooding atmosphere here also has resonances of Debussy's Pelleas et Melisande.
Fredrick sings with intense involvement, nuancing her delivery to match every shift in Judith's psyche. And Stout is simply compelling and engrossing, both attractive and tormented.
At just over an hour this is an emotionally draining experience. Concentration from the ESO players was remarkable, bringing great colour to the interludes between the opening of each of the seven fateful doors, and the sheer absorption from the two soloists, discreetly marshalled by Woods, leapt out from the screen.
Christopher Morley

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