Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (1787) [162:00]
Don Giovanni (baritone) - Eberhard Wächter
Donna Anna (soprano) - Joan Sutherland
Leporello (bass) - Giuseppe Taddei
Il Commendatore (bass) - Gottlob Frick
Donna Elvira (soprano) - Elisabeth Schwarzkopf
Don Ottavio (tenor) - Luigi Alva
Masetto (bass) - Piero Cappuccilli
Zerlina (soprano) - Graziella Sciutti
Philharmonia Chorus and Orchestra/Carlo Maria Giulini
rec. 7-15 October, 23-24 November 1959, No.1 Studio, Abbey Rd. London UK. stereo
PRISTINE AUDIO PACO078 [3 CDs: 54:05 + 50:12 + 56:45]
Although previous issues going back to 1987 are fine, EMI managed to botch its 2002 re-mastering of this famous recording in their Great Recordings of the Century series, which is muffled, with all the upper frequencies removed. I found a very acceptable alternative in an issue on the Alto label which retains a little background hiss but no more than I would expect from a 1959 recording transferred from LPs, the very occasional click being in evidence. However, this Pristine transfer from clean LPs is now easily the best option: some slight sharpness in the LPs has been corrected, all clicks removed and the now celebrated Pristine Audio XR re-mastering treatment by Andrew Rose has rendered it superlative: warm, clear and spacious. The original EMI engineering was in any case always very good indeed.
For all its fame and excellence, there are reasons to deny this account the epithet "perfect" - but a heck of a lot is very right indeed, starting with Giulini's magisterial direction, which is sprung, flexible and subtle, with none of the excessive leisureliness which sometimes afflicted his later conducting. The Philharmonia Orchestra is simply wonderful.
The cast is superb, though I have reservations about a couple of things, starting with Taddei's tendency to ham it up too much with some nasal affectations and barking to accentuate things that are already intrinsically funny and are better delivered in a sly rather than a histrionic manner. He also loses tonal quality too often, such as in an ugly sustained D on "maestosa". Nonetheless, he is a good foil to Wächter's silky Don in their quick-fire exchanges, despite their voices being too similar in recitative if you are used to a bass such as Siepi or Ghiaurov as the Don. Wächter is aggressive, driven and able to signal that he is deliberately and cynically turning on the seductive charm to further his sex addiction. Many will welcome a baritone Don as more appropriate both to the tessitura of the music and the character of opera’s favourite roué.
Sutherland's Donna Anna is a surprise and simply the best on record: agile, huge and gorgeous of tone and even well characterised in so far as it is possible to enliven such a starchy soul. The contrast with Schwarzkopf's febrile Elvira is telling; she had already been singing this role for a decade and it suited her voice and talents ideally. Luigi Alva sings with both more beauty of line and steel in his tone than I had remembered. Sciutti is average as Zerlina, Cappuccilli hectoring as Masetto and the great Gottlob Frick very unsteady indeed in the opening scene - but he warms up nicely for an appropriately chilling and sepulchral Commendatore in the crucial final showdown.
As is normally the case with Pristine, there is little in the booklet apart from the tracking cues, excerpts from a “Gramophone” review of a previous issue and a note from the engineer; otherwise one may go online for full programme notes. What is presumably a printing error on the spine of my review copies suggests that the catalogue number is 077; however, on the reverse covers, the discs themselves and the Pristine website the three discs are is listed as 078A, B and C.
Sprung, flexible and subtle, with a superb cast … simply wonderful.