Bela Bartok – Duke Bluebeard’s Castle – Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen (2014)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz  | Time – 01:06:38 minutes | 567 MB | Genre: Classical
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download – Source: hyperion-records.co.uk | Digital Booklet | © Signum Classics
Recorded: November 2011, Konzerthaus, Vienna, Austria

Sir John Tomlinson’s world-weary enactment of the tortured Bluebeard is variously available under the batons of James Levine (Munich Philharmonic), Jukka-Pekka Saraste (BBC SO), Richard Fames (Orchestra of Opera North, in English) and Bernard Haitink with the Berlin Philharmonic (1996), Some little while ago I recommended the Haitink version as vocally superior, Levine as the most compelling interpretation and the BBC SO Prom as a valuable memento of an occasion that many will doubtless want to revisit. Salonen’s memorable reading was recorded live at tile Vienna Konzerthaus on November 8, 2011, and for those who care about broken spells, I’m happy to report that there is no spell-breaking applause at the end of the performance. I wasn’t sure about Juliet Stevenson’s Listen with Mother-style delivery of the spoken Prologue – too polite by half – but as soon as Salonen cues the score’s reptilian first bars, just after the one-minute mark, you can sense both a tightening of tension and Salonen’s natural grasp of Bartok’s richly suggestive tone-poetry. Tomlinson himself tends to favour a dry, ‘lowing’ delivery, at times suspending vibrato. Try 3’11” into track 1, where he invites Judith to answer his request to join him; and when he repeats his invitation, he seems almost desperate – needlessly, as it happens, because Michelle DeYoung sounds more than willing. Thereafter, Salonen pushes for some fierce accents while keeping the undulating Prologue restlessly on the move. Tomlinson suggests real menace when he asks Judith why she made the visit (track 1, 8’54”); and when she hammers on the first door three minutes later, the Philharmonia Voices do their bit with a ghostly sigh. As the subsequent doors open, Salonen and his players take centre stage, the instruments of torture sounding almost graphic in their impact, before the pace dips and the sunrise temporarily breaks through. DeYoung is at her best as she glides effortlessly among the flora and fauna of Bluebeard’s garden, while her lacerating C as the fifth door flies open to reveal Bluebeard’s vast and beautiful kingdom is breathtaking. There’s a very audible organ, too. The final climax is overwhelming because Salonen understands so well how the music must simultaneously rise to greet her and express Judith’s tragedy. Sound-wise, the score’s vast dynamic curve is truthfully reproduced and while I would unhesitatingly recommend this recording for the sake of Michelle DeYoung, Salonen and the Philharmonia, Sir John’s post-prime Bluebeard, although rich in drama and theatrical presence, can’t compare with the best of his former selves, most notably under Bernard Haitink, with Anne Sofie von Otter and the Berlin Philharmonic on EMI. For opera-in-English fans, the Farnes recording is pretty impressive, too. ~~ Gramophone, Rob Cowan, July 2014

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Dunedin Consort – JS Bach: Six Brandenburg Concertos (2013)
FLAC (tracks) 24bit/192 kHz | Time – 93:14 minutes | 4,01 GB | Genre: Classical
Official Digital Download – Source: LinnRecords.com | Covers & Digital Booklet

Bach’s Six Brandenburg Concertos are essential and enduringly popular works in the Baroque orchestral repertory, full of interesting instrumentation choices and dancing melodies. Under the direction of prize-winning Bach specialist John Butt O.B.E., the ensemble has become particularly acclaimed for its inquisitive approach, shining new light into some of the best known pieces of the Baroque repertoire. Dunedin Consort, the team that brought you ‘John Passion’, is back with its first instrumental release: ‘J.S. Bach: Six Brandenburg Concertos’. Under the direction of Bach specialist John Butt, Dunedin Consort demonstrates its collective experience and historical knowledge in an exceptionally insightful and fresh performance. (more…)