Conducted by Rafael Kubelik, this terrifying performance of Bartok's only opera was taped live at the 1962 Lucerne festival, with which Kubelik was closely associated at the time. Purists may object to the work being sung in German rather than the original Hungarian, but the extraordinary pairing of Irmgard Seefried's Judith with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's Bluebeard, both totally immersed in their roles, ensures an interpretation like no other. Seefried initially sounds disquietingly girlish, like an innocent walking unwittingly into the world of a psychopath. But her naivety masks horrific depths of obsession, and what she uncovers at the end of her self-destructive quest is not Bluebeard's expected monstrosity, but his profound aridity of soul. Kubelik's restrained approach, probing the protagonists' psyches without resorting to melodrama, adds immeasurably to the creepy atmosphere. As good as the classic recordings by Istvan Kertesz and Ivan Fischer, and absolutely unforgettable.
Reviews by Tim Ashley