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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni, K 527 (1787) Prague, Czech Republic
Cesare Siepi  (bass) ... Don Giovanni; Otto Edelmann (bass) ... Leporello; Raffaele Arié (bass) ... Commendatore; Walter Berry (bass) ... Masetto; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) ... Donna Elvira; Elisabeth Grümmer (soprano) ... Donna Anna; Erna Berger (soprano) ... Zerlina; Anton Dermota (tenor) ... Ottavio
Vienna State Opera Chorus
Vienna Philharmonic/Wilhelm Furtwängler
Recorded in Italian at the Salzburg Festival, 27 July 1953. mono
ORFEO D’OR C 624 043 D [64.00 + 76.21 + 39.22]


 

This 2004 Orfeo d’Or issue is the first ‘official’ release of Wilhelm Furtwängler’s 1953 Salzburg Festival performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni and has a superior cast to the same conductor’s other Salzburg performances in 1950 and 1954. What sadly lets this performance down is Furtwängler’s slow, stodgy conducting. He seems to impose the monumentality of Wagner and his own subjectivity onto the score, the result being a very heavy and ponderous nineteenth century interpretation with little if anything to do with Mozart’s sound-world. Throughout, the woodwind is far too woolly and soft-grained, and the playing of the Vienna Philharmonic is uncharacteristically lacklustre, devoid of its usual distinctive character and style. It seems to be constantly held back by Furtwängler’s plodding tempi and mannered wilfulness.

However, what makes this mid-price set desirable is the superlative singing of a stellar vintage cast. Cesare Siepi is ideally cast as the Don, having a rich powerful voice full of seductive, predatory charm. This was complemented perfectly by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s dark and dramatic Donna Elvira, which in turn contrasted beautifully with Elisabeth Grümmer's delicate, translucent and softly sung Donna Anna. Erna Berger's somewhat over-ripe Zerlina still comes across with youthful conviction despite her age. Walter Berry's Masetto is sung with great clarity and appropriate sarcasm of tone whilst Raffaele Arié's Commendatore is suitably terrifying. Anton Dermota’s Ottavio is absolutely beautifully sung, with an ultra-sweet tone yet without sounding saccharine. Otto Edelmann's Leporello is ideally cast as the Don’s slippery, quick-witted servant.

The mono sound is excellent for the period with a natural balance between singers and orchestra and there is hardly any excess stage or audience noise. The booklet notes are up to Orfeo’s usual high standards containing critical commentary accompanied with extracts from the original newspaper reviews of the actual performance. This ‘live’ Don Giovanni is a collector’s item specifically for opera-buffs and Furtwängler fanatics and fills a gap in his recording legacy.

For those that find Furtwanger’s conducting too wilful and mannered I suggest you purchase Dimitri Mitropoulos’s Don Giovanni (Sony Classical: SM3K 64 263) from the 1956 Salzburg Festival with Cesare Siepi as Don Giovanni, Elisabeth Grümmer as Donna Anna, Gottlob Frick as Commendatore, Lisa della Casa as Donna Elvira, Léopold Simoneau as Don Ottavio, Fernando Corena as Leporello and Rita Streich as Zerlina, again with the Vienna State Opera Chorus, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra in top form.

Alex Russell

 

 



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