An electrifying performance of an indisputable masterpiece.
G.D. | Norway | 09/17/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is the kind of work you listen to straight through and sit there, stunned, for minutes afterwards. I won't hesitate to claim that it is one of the best - and most effective - operas every written, nor to compare it to, say, Berg's Wozzeck. True, Judith does quite involve the same kind of complexity or subtlety, but it packs a punch the force of which surpasses even Berg's masterpiece. It is, I'd say, a masterpiece, without qualifications.
Apparently the premiere of the work in 1986 was a huge success, and it is a real pity it hasn't been taken up elsewhere (proving that there are other factors than intrinsic quality that prevents modern operas from entering the repertoire). The main story line is familiar (dramatized by Friedrich Hebbel, but modified by Matthus himself - in fact, the twists are pretty interesting). Stylistically, the music is influenced by later Carl Orff (but surpassing anything I have heard by that composer), with song lines that are often craggy and jagged. The music is immensely powerful, often darkly violent, nightmarish and based on brief melodic cells, often hammered out repeatedly, and unrelenting, often almost hysterical rhythmic figures. The writing for voices is utterly effective, and in particular the double choir is used to stunning effect. It isn't particularly `difficult' music, but it is so effectively written and so powerful as to surpass more or less anything I've heard. It is also glitteringly orchestrated - listen for instance to the spectacular effect obtained in Judith's monologue after the killing. It culminates (both musically and dramatically) in a dark, utterly memorable passacaglia and, at the very end, an utterly harrowing series of pounding chords that leaves the listener (at least this listener) almost gasping for breath for the sheer force of it.
So what we have here is a masterpiece, albeit one that is unlikely to be recorded again anytime soon. Fortunately it doesn't really matter - the performances here are uniformly electrifying. Particular praise needs to go to Eva-Maria Bundschuh in the title role; fervent, fearless and utterly thrilling. Almost as impressive is Werner Haselen as Holofernes - a little rough around the edges but with a biting, chilly power completely apt for the role. The lesser roles are also good, and the orchestra plays their hearts out under Rolf Reuter. Special praise needs to go to the choruses, however, which are quite simply brilliant. Overall, this is music of elemental power, and it is given a performance which is so ferocious and powerful as to be almost over-the-top. Recording quality is also good - unfortunately no translation is given of the text, but that is really the only drawback of this recording. In short, this is an essential acquisition - and I mean that. This is one of those recordings I couldn't imagine living without once I heard it."