Another Great Don Giovanni Recording.
Jay Bauerle | Indianapolis, Indiana United States | 06/08/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"This 1953 Salzburg Festival live recording may be as good as my current favorite, the 1956 Salzburg recording, also live, with Mitropoulos conducting. Unlike many critics, I like Tito Gobbi's more malevolant Giovanni from Furtwangler's 1950 (if I remember right) Salzburg recording. However, Siepi's performances in this recording, and in the Mitropoulos version, are impressive. The remainder of the cast is excellent in both versions, though Mitropoulos' forces probably have the edge and may have been the best cast, for this opera, ever recorded. In all of his versions of Don Giovanni, Furtwangler takes a darker, more tragic approach to this opera than most conductors, Mitropoulos included. This works, and works well. 4.5/5 stars."
Ralph Moore | Bishop's Stortford, UK | 11/19/2008
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Don Giovanni (K.527 1787)
Cesare Siepi (bass) - Don Giovanni; Otto Edelmann (bass) - Leporello; Raffaele Arié - Il Commendatore ; Elisabeth Grümmer (soprano) - Donna Anna; Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (soprano) - Donna Elvira; Anton Dermota (tenor) - Don Ottavio; Walter Berry (bass) - Masetto; Erna Berger (soprano) - Zerlina
Salzburg Festival Orchestra and Chorus/Wilhelm Furtwängler
rec. live, 27 July 1953, Salzburg Festival.
MUSIC & ARTS CD-1129 [3 CDs: 59.13 + 57:23 + 62.41]
This live recording features Cesare Siepi in probably his most celebrated role and captures Furtwängler at his most trenchant, shortly before his untimely death.
We inevitably assume that Fürtwängler will be grand, magisterial and monolithic, compared, say, to Böhm's live 1957 Metropolitan performance, which is fleet, alert, and more alive to dramatic nuance. Comparison of the overtures seems to reinforce that impression: a timing of 6'54" for Fürtwängler confirms his preference for "grandiose solemnity", while Böhm, at 5'35", opts for a lither, more sprung pace, the strings scampering breathlessly. Yet ultimately Fürtwängler's apparent slowness results in a performance a mere three minutes slower than Böhm overall, so that first impression is clearly deceptive. Nonetheless, Fürtwängler's prevailing tone is essentially that of an epic morality play: stern and Germanic - not especially redolent of the "drama giocoso" Mozart and Da Ponte apparently had in mind, but perhaps that was just an ironic false trail. In any case, his interpretations is successful, convincing and balanced. Despite his essential seriousness, Fürtwängler achieves considerable lightness of touch in more comical scenes, such as the Don's serenade and his exchanges with Leporello, and obviously there is no lack of weight in his handling of the darker moments. While Böhm creates an integrated musical drama, Fürtwängler is more authoritative but also a little enervated; his "Don Giovanni" has more of the mood of "Fidelio" about it and is more static in quality.
Sound might be an issue for the collector. This Salzburg performance conveys a sense of the stage; the voices have much more space around them than those at the Metropolitan, and are more often distant, a little muffled and off-mike. This ambience accords with Fürtwängler's darker, more mysterious interpretation but the echo blurs individual lines in ensembles.
If you can accept a bass in the eponymous role, Siepi is without equal; smooth, dangerous and burnished of tone, as seductive as one could wish: predatory yet oleaginously charming in his scenes with Zerlina; saturnine and violent when he despatches the Commendatore with a blood-curdling snarl. Just as Fürtwängler's conducting is closer to that of Klemperer, Siepi's Don most resembles that of Nicolai Ghiaurov. If you prefer a baritone Don, look elsewhere; otherwise this assumption approaches the ideal.
The cast is as fine as could be mustered at that time - which is very fine. As Donna Anna, Elisabeth Grümmer is febrile and impassioned but marginally over-parted and the top of her voice can be a little shrill. She is infinitely touching upon discovering their murdered father, but a hint of the Germanic "v" occasionally creeps into Grümmer's Italian in lines such as "Quello sangue". Schwarzkopf's febrile "grande dame" Elvira brings real temperament to the role. As Zerlina, Berger is a lovely little minx and sounds quite the faux-ingénue even at 53 years old. Walter Berry already shines; his Masetto is as pointedly characterised as one would wish and Corena, as Leporello, is a splendid vocal actor. The Commendatore of Arie is suitably terrifying and redoubtable, providing a loud, coarse wall of sound. As for the Don Ottavio - a relatively small but crucial role, especially as he so often comes across as a real stuffed shirt - reactions to Dermota will be mixed. He sings elegantly, if a little nasally, deploying his mezza voce tastefully but clearly lacking the ability to "do a McCormack" with his arias and sing those fiendish runs in one long breath. However, it is only fair to point out that the applause of the Salzburg audience clearly demonstrates its approval of Dermota's refinement.
If you want Fürtwängler's "Don", this is, by all accounts, the best of his three live recordings both in terms of sound and performance; otherwise, for me, the Böhm Metropolitan performance just has the edge - although I regret the absence of Schwarzkopf's Elvira, despite my not usually being an admirer; Della Casa's beautifully sung but pallid Elvira is not in the same league. There are so many recordings of this masterpiece that to make an outright recommendation would be foolhardy. My favourite studio recording remains the 1973 Colin Davis set on Philips, which has a wonderful sense of ensemble - and a beautifully vocalised, baritone Don in Ingvar Wixell - but I am equally drawn to the live 1970 Karajan performance in Vienna. If, however, you are tolerant of mono sound, you cannot go wrong with this version with Siepi in his prime.