Klassik  Sinfonische Musik
James Levine & Münchner Philharmoniker Vol. 5 / Béla Bartók: “Bluebeard´s Castle” · Piano Concerto No. 3 OC 505 2 CD
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Format2 Audio CD
Ordering NumberOC 505
Release date26/08/2004
Players/ContributorsMusicians Composer
  • Bartók, Béla

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      Description hide

      On volume 5 of the series “Documents of the Munic Years” James Levine and the Münchner Philharmoniker present Bartók’s most exquisite compositions: Bluebeard, Mandarin Suite and the Piano Concerto No. 3.

      Münchner Philharmoniker
      Orchester der Landeshauptstadt München
      James Levine, Dirigent/conductor
      John Tomlinson, Blaubart/Bluebeard
      Kremena Dilcheva, Judith/Judith
      Örs Kisfaludy, Sprecher/speaker
      Jonathan Biss, Klavier/piano

      John Tomlinson: Blaubart/Bluebeard

      The bass was born in Lancashire. He gained a B.Sc. in Civil Engineering at Manchester University before winning a scholarship to the Royal Manchester College of Music and was made a C.B.E. in 1997. Tomlinson has sung regularly with English National Opera since 1974 and with the Royal Opera, Covent Garden, since 1977 and has also appeared with Opera North, Scottish Opera, Glyndebourne Festival and Touring Operas and Kent Opera. He has sung at the Bayreuth Festival every year since 1988, where he has been heard as Wotan in Das Rheingold and Die Walküre, the Wanderer in Siegfried, Titurel and Gurnemanz in Parsifal, König Marke in Tristan und Isolde, König Heinrich in Lohengrin and Hagen in Götterdämmerung. Foreign engagements include Geneva, Lisbon, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, San Diego, Paris, Amsterdam, Berlin (Deutsche Oper and Deutsche Staatsoper), Dresden, Munich and Vienna, and the Festivals of Orange, Aix-en- Provence, Salzburg, Edinburgh and the Maggio Musicale, Florence. His repertoire further includes operas of Strauss, Schönberg, Birtwistle, Beethoven, Verdi, Mozart, Offenbach, Debussy, Pfitzner and Mussorgsky. John Tomlinson has a large concert repertoire and has sung with all the leading British orchestras as well as in Germany, Italy, Belgium, Holland, France, Spain, Denmark and the USA.

      Kremena Dilcheva: Judith

      The mezzosoprano was born in Stara Zagora, Bulgaria, studying voice and piano in Sofia and Munich. After an engagement in the Teatro alla Scala opera studio, the artist made a name for herself with appearances at renowned theatres in Germany, Austria and Italy, including the Bavarian State Opera, Munich’s Prinzregententheater, the Teatro Comunale in Florence, the Ravenna Festival etc. The beauty of Kremena Dilcheva’s voice, her style and sense of dramatic intensity have made her one of the leading singers of her generation. Her primary roles include classic and early Romantic characters like Cherubino, Sesto, Rosina, Romeo in Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi, Orlofsky, Olga in Eugen Onegin and others. She has appeared in Sarti’s Giulio Sabino in Ravenna and Fermo; with Hänsel und Gretel in Munich. In November 2003, she sang the part of Judith in Bartók’s Bluebeard’s Castle with the Munich Philharmonic under James Levine and was applauded frenetically. She appeared with Levine once more in July 2004, singing in Wagner’s Parsifal and as a soloist in Mendelssohn’s Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Munich Philharmonic’s annual open air concert on Odeonsplatz in front of 8000 enthusiastic listeners.

      Örs Kisfaludy: Sprecher/Speaker The artist was born in Budapest, lived for some time in Belgium and Ethiopia and has resided in Switzerland since 1961. He began his acting studies at the Lausanne Conservatory in 1964 and has appeared regularly in France, Belgium and Switzerland since 1972. From 1985 to 1990 Kisfaludy led his own musical broadcast from the Radio Suisse Romande; he began accepting speaking roles in musical works beginning at this time. This work has enabled him to appear under such conductors as Erich Leinsdorf, Helmuth Rilling and Jesús López Cobos. The actor’s most recent theatrical roles include Sganarelle in Molière’s Dom Juan and Zorba in Alexis Zorba by Nikos Kazantzakis at the Théâtre de Jorat in Mézières.

      Jonathan Biss: Klavier/Piano

      The American pianist Jonathan Biss, characterized as “deeply musical, interpretatively principled, and technically secure” (The Washington Post), has already proved himself an accomplished and exceptional musician with a flourishing international reputation through his orchestral and recital performances in North America and Europe. Performing a diverse repertoire ranging from Mendelssohn, Mozart and Beethoven to Schumann, Schoenberg and Janác¡ek, as well as the contemporary works of Leon Kirchner and John Corigliano, Mr. Biss is frequently noted for his intriguing programs, artistic maturity and versatility, as well as technical excellence. Born in 1980, Mr. Biss began his piano studies at age 6. He has studied at Indiana University and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, where he studied with Leon Fleisher, as well as at the Theo Lieven International Piano Foundation in Italy. When he is not performing, Mr. Biss is an avid tennis fan and enjoys spending time in rare bookstores

      Popular milestones

      Among the composers of the twentieth century Béla Bartók achieved something that only a very few other colleagues were to manage: to become popular. Today, his works must be seen as milestones in contemporary music history, ones which have found their place in concert and operatic life. In contradistinction to the dodecaphonists Arnold Schönberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg, as well as the neo-baroque Hindemith and the neo-classicist Stravinsky, Bartók took on the mantle of the isolated neo-folklorist. By rescuing for posterity the main sources of Hungarian folk music – an activity Bartók engaged in during his early years with his compatriot Zóltan Kodály – the composer not only brought about something of eminent importance to the world of music ethnology, but also had the vision to see in it a means to an end: for it is the rhythmically and tonally surprisingly complex music of a “bucolic tradition” that became an integral part of Bartók’s oeuvre and which helped set free the creative urge whose end was to know no bounds. Thus was the composer able to write in a modern style not rendered inflexible by any dogma; nor did he concoct whimsical works – mere shadows of themselves as it were – or music of esoteric leanings that would distance the audience. Aaron Copland, writing in 1947 two years after the composer’s death, characterised Bartók’s style in a most appropriate way, describing how he brought to music a dry and unsentimental quality, one that evinced a down to earth approach and which was full of rhythmic vitality and concise dissonance. Copland adds just how individual are the slow movements, with their deep sense of pessimism which give way to sudden eruptions within an atmosphere of destruction.

      Happiness is spurned … and redemption vanishes
      Béla Bartók’s opera Duke Bluebeard’s Castle

      Information on the composer:
      Born on 25th March 1881 in Nagyszentmiklós (today Sinnîcolau Mare) in the Hungarian part of “Siebenbürgen” in present-day Romania. Died on 26th September 1945 in New York. Composition and completion of the work: Bartók wrote his only opera in 1911, spending just six months on the score. Following the advice by his colleague and friend Zoltán Kodály, he modified the piece several times.

      On 24th May 1918 in Budapest (with the orchestra and soloists of the Budapest Opera under Egisto Tango).

      Duke Bluebeard’s Castle marks Bartók’s breakthrough as a composer, although the premiere, in Budapest, took place seven years after the work’s completion. The opera ended a long period of neglect. At one competition, this one act opera of Bartók had even been turned down as ‘unplayable’. He eventually advanced to become the leading composer of his country. A letter from 1913, which he wrote to a friend, demonstrates his pain after the opera had been initially rejected: ‘Either the others are right, and I am someone of little talent who botches things up; or I am right and they are the idiots…I have come to accept that my music will never leave the desktop.’

      In the work, which avails itself of just two main protagonists, the problem of the enormous gulf between man and woman is raised, as is the insoluble conflict between rationality and emotion. The result is an incredible inner longing. In another context these thoughts – which are obviously largely biographical – lead one to examine the pantomime The Miraculous Mandarin. The Bluebeard saga exists in many variants throughout the whole of Europe. One early literary version by Charles Perrault came into being in the year 1697. Exactly 100 years later the poet Ludwig Tieck completed a novel of the same name. And opera composers long before Bartók had shown keen interest in the story; André Ernest Modeste Grétry and Jacques Offenbach both presented such works on stage. The libretto by the symbolist Béla Balázs was actually intended for Zoltán Kodály, but the material failed to awaken Kodály’s interest. Bartók on the other hand was thoroughly taken with the idea.

      Only three roles are needed to carry out the one hour plot: a baritone (Duke), a soprano or mezzo-soprano (Judith) and a speaker for the prologue. The action takes place in the dark, cold and “weeping” castle that is Duke Bluebeard’s residence. It symbolizes Bluebeard’s soul, whereby seven closed rooms stand for the facets of his character. Judith, Bluebeard’s fourth wife, wishes to own the castle – and thus peer into the inner recesses of the Duke’s mind. She wants to fill the building with light and warmth, and desires intimate knowledge about him and his past. In Bartók’s dramaturgy of key signatures, lightness and darkness are represented by the opposite poles of C Major and F sharp Major. The Duke, clothed in secrecy, is followed by these changes in mood, which penetrate with great curiosity his soul. The first five doors conceal Bluebeard’s worldly goods, and symbolize, too, his power: a torture chamber, an armoury, a treasury, a secret garden and the rolling countryside represent his previous life. After Judith has opened these five doors, she finally enters the last two rooms. For his part, Bluebeard expects love without mistrust. “Judith, love me, Judith, do not ask”, he demands just as she is about to open the seventh door, although he has in effect already capitulated. The sixth door opens onto a sea of tears, the seventh onto a chamber for the dead, in this case three crowned women. They are Bluebeard’s previous lovers, and represent the morning, the afternoon, and the evening of his life. Clothed in the night’s cloak of stars, Judith succumbs to his enchantment, and surely follows her predecessors. The castle slips into darkness. Bartók demonstrates the continual conflict between ideals and love, achieving a heady brew of ethnic elements, expressionism and artificial symbolism, the whole lit by detailed directions for stage lighting rich in nuance. In this drama of the spirit love has no real place, this emotion exacting control on every operatic plot up until the very end of the nineteenth century. It is not therefore surprising that Duke Bluebeard’s Castle makes do without a love duet. The composer seemed to be on the brink of creating a genuine new musical language, one which he based on the declamatory tone of the Hungarian language. What comes to the fore is the parlando-rubato inherent in folk music. The libretto by Balázs allows the music enough space in which to operate, ensuring that the contours are filled with life.

      Swan Song:
      Béla Bartók’s Concerto for Piano and Orchestra, No. 3

      Composition and completion of the work:
      Bartók wrote his third and final piano concerto during a stay at a sanatorium between June and September 1945 at Saranac Lake in the State of New York. In New York City he continued work on the piece and managed to complete it before he died.

      Bartók had wanted to dedicate the piece to his student and second wife Ditta Pásztory. Written evidence of this intention is not however extant.

      On 8th February 1946 in Philadelphia. (With the Philadelphia Orchestra under Eugene Ormandy. Soloist: György Sándor.)

      The Third Piano Concerto was to be Bartók’s last completed composition, with the exception of the final 17 bars, which were orchestrated by an earlier pupil Tibor Serly. Right up until 21st September 1945, the evening prior to the composer being taken in to West Side Hospital in New York (and but four days before he died), Bartók continued work on the concerto. He remarked to one of the doctors treating him that he was sorry he had so much baggage with him just as he was to take his leave.

      The work differs from its two predecessors in many respects. It is softer and exhibits a sunnier persona, without suffering in compositional quality or formal strictness and orientation. The solo instrument no longer has to wait for aggressive percussion salvos; and the hammering chords so rich in dissonance are intimately bound up in legato lines and deft sonic moments. The piano writing is more melodic, full of tracery and generally brighter. Even the complex, often asymmetrical time signatures and strikingly immediate rhythms are cushioned by more undulating motion. Bartók’s late style is lucid indeed. According to the Bartók exegete Bence Szabolcsi, this simplification of means accompanied too the final days of the composer’s life, as if all that remained of the overarching and humane nature of his art was mere triumphal power shorn of stormy, violent rhythms.

      This tendency towards simplicity also affects the harmonic language; instead of heady chromaticism, a more polished superficial harmony may be made out, the resulting sound world radiant in the extreme. Even listeners who bring little experience of music of the twentieth century will be able to latch on to the beauty of the final piano concerto, an allure obvious in its immediacy. As for the more aurally distancing “sounds of the night”, which continue to percolate the adagio intermezzo of the Second Piano Concerto, they are replaced by a dawn chorus comprising exactly transcribed bird songs. That the movement is entitled Der Dankgesang eines Genesenden, a direction almost sacred in intent, sheds light on Bartók’s personal fate – much like Beethoven’s – and helps us to understand a human being who sought refuge in the temporary healing ability of what might be termed the hyper-reality of his art. Further evidence if it were needed is provided by the marking adagio religioso, which heads the middle movement of the concerto, a wording wholly atypical for Bartók.

      In the depths of hell
      Béla Bartók’s Orchestral suite to the Pantomime “The Miraculous Mandarin”, Sz 73

      Literary source
      On January 1st 1917 the Hungarian literary magazine Nyugat published the scenario for a “Pantomime grotesque” by Menyhért Lengyel (1880-1974), under the title A csodálatos mandarin (The Miraculous Mandarin).

      Composition and completion of the work
      As early as August 1917 Bartók had been visited by the first musical thoughts for a stage work after Lengyel’s Mandarin. Between October 1918 and May 1919 he committed the first compositional sketches to the page. A second draft was made between 1923-24, simultaneously with the orchestral score and a version for piano four hands. For the two versions of the shortened orchestral suite without chorus (1926/27) Bartók composed a new ending, and for a planned Budapest stage premiere (1931), which nonetheless was never realised, a new finale.

      Stage version: on 27th November 1926 in Cologne (Choir and Orchestra of the State Opera of Cologne; conductor: Jenö Szenkár; Direction, costume and designs: Hans Strohbach; Mandarin: Gustav Zeiller; young girl: Wilma Aug).
      Final version of the orchestral suite: on 15th October 1928 in Budapest (Orchestra of the Budapest Philharmonic Society under Ernö von Dohnányi).

      The final work of a trilogy of stage works by Bartók, The Miraculous Mandarin, must be accorded an exceptional status. Not only the content but also the expressive means go much further and dig deeper than other early works by the composer, highlighting the state of inner crisis and tragedy of the modern world. The Hungarian author and playwright Menyhért Lengyel recast the novel of the same name in 1918, working in close collaboration with Bartók to produce a version designed to exact a compositional response.

      Bartók described the plot in a newspaper interview thus: in an Apache tent three thugs, bent on robbery, force an attractive girl to lure in prospective victims from the street. The first guest is obviously poor, the second too, but the third is a rich Chinese man. The young girl entertains the Mandarin with her dance, awakening in him burning desire which breaks out in irrepressible love. But she simply can not stand his presence. The thugs attack and rob him, strangling him with the bed sheets and stabbing him with a sabre, but to no avail, they can’t do any harm to the love-stricken Mandarin, who passionately stares at the girl. The girl fulfils the Mandarin’s wish, who then collapses and dies.

      Bartók finished work on the pantomime early in 1925, the score originally being intended for the Diaghilev ballet company. The Budapest opera house considered for some time mounting the premiere, finally opting for a date at the beginning of the following year. This planned performance was then shifted into a distant future, prompting Bartók to entrust with the first performance rights Jenö Szenkár, the “Generalmusikdirektor” of the Cologne Opera. The premiere finally took place on 27th November 1926 in the staunchly Catholic metropole on the Rhine and soon developed into one of the most infamous theatre scandals in Germany. The members of the audience – those that had not already left the hall in haste – responded to the innovative avowed artistic aims of the composer and his trusted Kapellmeister with angry booing. The general sense of disgust called for immediate intervention by politicians and the church, brought about a plethora of meetings and protests, and engendered a never-ending stream of tirades in the press denigrating a “work designed for pimps and prostitutes with orchestral brouhaha”.

      In the end, the conductor and musical director Szenkár was hauled up before the Mayor of Cologne, Oberbürgermeister Konrad Adenauer. “I expected something awful”, commented the maestro looking back at the momentous meeting, adding that Dr. Adenauer had received him in a cool and reserved tone, but had come straight to the point. Apparently, bitter accusations were made, Szenkár’s very artistic calling being called into question. How could such a morally degrading work be staged! It would have to disappear forthwith. The conductor attempted to put the politician on the right track, explaining that Bartók was one of the greatest composers of the time, and that there was a danger that the city would become the laughing stock of the musical world. But Adenauer stuck to his guns, the work would not remain in the repertoire. Konrad Adenauer of course, later became the very first Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, his musical reputation – less glorious as it were – also went down in the annals of history.

      Despite all the campaigning and intrigues surrounding the work, the Mandarin was not discarded that easily, achieving an international success the resonance of which we still feel today. In 1931 Bartók composed for the Budapest premiere a new ending. But once again the first performance in the Hungarian capital was cancelled – at the very last minute. Finally, the first stage version of the work in Budapest took place in December 1945, a performance Bartók was no longer to witness. The Orchestra of the Philharmonic Society had, in 1928, seen fit to present the orchestral suite (without chorus) to the Budapest audience. This version, the one documented on the present CD recording, ends not with the death but with the ecstatic keening of the protagonist.

      The Miraculous Mandarin – whichever version we consider – is of the same ilk as Stravinsky’s animalistic and brutish Sacre du printemps, or Prokofiev’s Skythic Suite. Coarse motoric rhythms, unlimited usage of dissonance and a cutting orchestral edginess go to make up Bartók’s work for the dance, one which wished to see more as a kind of pantomime than a true ballet. Tonal centricity helps the plot unfold, the largely stylised dances being part of a through-composed score.

      With The Miraculous Mandarin, Bartók managed to unify everything at his musical disposal – at a single blow one might say. All that he had learnt from other masters of the trade comes to fruition in this piece. Nonetheless, it was folk music which continued to act as a main source and catalyst for his style. What emerges is an artistic and musical language which in its refinement can simply not be bettered. It is with a sense of legitimacy that Bence Szabolcsi, the doyen of Hungarian musicology, describes Bartóks oeuvre as a successful attempt to “crystallize the music of the century, and this at the highest level.”

      English translation: Graham Lack

      Fotos: Stefan Rakus

      Tracklist hide

      hide CD 1
      • 1.Applause00:23
      • Béla Bartók (1881–1945)
        “Bluebeard’s Castle” Opera in one act by Béla Balázs op. 11
        • 2.Prolog06:26
        • 3.Bluebeard’s Castle05:33
        • 4.“Doors I see…” (Judith)04:41
        • 5.First Door: Torture Chamber04:28
        • 6.Second Door: Armoury04:38
        • 7.Third Door: Treasury02:50
        • 8.Fourth Door: Garden05:20
        • 9.Fifth Door: Bluebeard’s Realm06:49
        • 10.Sixth Door: Lake of Tears05:08
        • 11.“The last door I will not open…” (Bluebeard)04:31
        • 12.Presentiment Seventh Door04:13
        • 13.Seventh Door: Bluebeard’s former wifes11:24
      • Total:01:06:24
      more CD 2
      • Concerto for Pianoforte and Orchestra No. 3
        • 1.I. Allegretto07:20
        • 2.II. Adagio religioso10:29
        • 3.III. Allegro vivace07:39
      • 4.“The Miraculous Mandarin” . . . 20 : 37 Pantomime in one act by Menyhért Lengyel op. 19
        Final version of the orchestra suite Sz 73
      • Total:46:05