Bartok’s Duke Bluebeard’s Castle is the perfect opera for a concert performance. This intense hour-long work for two singers loses little from a lack of stage effects – indeed, stripped of them the extent of its purely musical brilliance was more sharply revealed.
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.
Janacek’s Sinfonietta also had an element of theatre with a dozen brass players – twelve trumpets, bass trumpets and euphoniums – high in the choir stalls blazing out fanfares resoundingly across the hall.
Under Gardner the CBSO gave us a thrilling high-octane performance, but one which also revelled in the work’s perky and jocular dance elements.
Michael Seal’s first concert with the CBSO in 1991 included the Sinfonietta. This was his last as a violinist with the orchestra. Michael – also the CBSO’s Associate Conductor – will concentrate on his conducting career.