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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
Don Giovanni K527 (1787) [164:48]
Mentre di lascio, K513 [4:34]
Un bacio do mano, K541 [1:49]
Per questo bella mano, K612 [4:08]
Cosi dunque tradisci…Aspri rimorsi atroci K432 [3:58]
Rivolgete a lui lo sguardo, K584 [4:17]
Alcandro, lo confesso…Non sò d’onde viene, K512 [4:36]
Don Giovanni: James Pease (baritone); Leporello: Benno Kusche (bass); Donna Anna: Margaret Harshaw (soprano); Donna Elvira: Sena Jurinac (soprano); Zerlina: Anny Schlemm (soprano); Don Ottavio: Léopold Simoneau (tenor); Il Commendatore: Harvey Alan (bass); Masetto: Thomas Hemsley (baritone); Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Glyndebourne Festival Chorus/Georg Solti
Italo Tajo (bass: arias)
E. Francalani (K612)
Orchestra Sinfonia di Torino della Radiotelevisione Italiana/Mario Rossi (arias)
rec. 1947 (arias), Live broadcast rec. 17 July 1954, Glyndebourne (Figaro)
ADD; cast and track lists; biographies and photographs; no texts.
Bonus CD: Highlights from Prima Voce [78:10]
NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI7964 [4 CDs: 267:40]

This 1954 live radio broadcast on the Nimbus label is the first Prima Voce issue for five years and the hundredth in the series. It also commemorates Georg Solit’s only appearances at Glyndebourne, when he conducted nine performances of “Don Giovanni”.

For me, this 4 CD set is a conundrum, as I am far more engaged by the two bonuses of a Mozart aria recital by elegant Italian bass Italo Tajo and the anthology of highlights from the series featuring some of the greatest singers ever heard. In truth, I already owned those recordings in the form of the individual artist recitals on Prima Voce, but re-acquaintance with the nineteen tracks here has served to re-ignite my admiration for the quality of so many bygone voices. The first thirteen are from the acoustic period and the final six from the electric era, but the immediacy of the singing to a modern listener tolerant of historical sound remains undiminished.

The relatively rare concert arias are sung with style and sensitivity by Tajo; his voice is neat, agile and attractive with the fast vibrato often associated with Mozart and Rossini specialists.

As for the main item here, given the range of alternatives, I cannot really summon up much enthusiasm for a “Don Giovanni” in limited mono sound which frequently overloads and distorts. The cast features for the most part adequate but essentially unremarkable voices – apart from the tenor Léopold Simoneau and soprano Sena Jurinac, who were always patrician singers. There is nothing wrong with Solti’s taut, nervy direction; he keeps proceedings bubbling along but there is some iffy intonation from scrappy, whining strings from the Royal Philharmonic in the overture; fortunately, they soon settle down.

James Pease was sadly short-lived, dying at 51 in 1967; he has an imposing voice but is oddly bland and unmemorable Don Giovanni. He enjoys a persuasive rapport with his vivid, if rather rough Leporello, Benno Kusche, especially at the beginning of Act 2 but, as is too often the case, their fruity basses are frequently indistinguishable, Pease’s Italian is not really idiomatic and some key moments, like his lumpy, “Deh vieni alla finestra”, lack finesse and legato.

The greatest disappointment is Margaret Harshaw’s Donna Anna; she is frequently harsh and shrill of tone and she audibly struggles with the coloratura of “Non mi dir”. Anny Schlemm has a weightier soprano than we usually associate with Zerlina but she is a convincing contadina and has good Italian. The Commendatore is workaday, lacking the really black resonance and bite which can chill the listener.
Simoneau provides the loveliest singing here, so it is a pity that he is placed so far back in the aural perspective. Jurinac is pure, steady and vibrant, even if she tends to float too many top notes rather than hit them square on.

The absence of libretto is easily remedied online but the general ordinariness of the performance is not; I am not convinced that this issue forms quite the celebratory high-point which the general excellence of the Prima Voce catalogue merits.

Ralph Moore

Bonus CD4: Highlights from Prima Voce
Madama Butterfly (Puccini) - Geraldine Farrar (soprano); Pagliacci (Leoncavallo) - Pasquale Amato (baritone); Lucrezia Borgia (Donizetti) - Sigrid Onegin (contralto); Die Walküre (Wagner) - Lotte Lehmann (soprano); Don Giovann (Mozart) - Richard Tauber (tenor); A Life for the Tsar (Glinka) - Antonina Nezhdanova (soprano); Les pêcheurs de perles (Bizet) - Dmitri Smirnov (tenor); Cléopâtre (Massenet) Marcel Journet (bass); Louise (Charpentier) - Nellie Melba (soprano); Un ballo in maschera (Verdi) – Mattia Battistini (baritone); La sonnambula (Bellini) - Luisa Tetrazzini (soprano); I puritani (Bellini|) - Giuseppe De Luca (baritone); Tosca (Puccini) - Miguel Fleta (tenor); Persian Love Song (Rubinstein) - Feodor Chaliapin (bass); Cantata no. 81 (Bach) - Marian Anderson (contralto); Mefistofele (Boito) - Claudia Muzio (soprano); Le postillon de Lonjumeau (Adam) - Helge Roswaenge (tenor); Atalanta (Handel) - Eidé Norena (soprano); Werther (Massenet) - Tito Schipa (tenor).
NIMBUS PRIMA VOCE NI 1446 [78:10] ADD; track lists and aria content summaries; no texts; the complete Prima Voce catalogue.



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