Absolutely absorbing, pinnacle of Mozart performance!
Y.P. | Mount Messiaen, Utah | 09/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I was quite surprised to find no review on this page when I recommended it to a friend. For me, this recorded performance is at the very pinnacle of the Mozart performances. I have therefore decided to share some thoughts and information here.
Wilhelm Furtwängler performed Don Giovanni numerous times in the Salzburg Festival and three recorded performances (in 1950, 1953 and 1954) with various releases and transfers have come down to us (as far as I know). This 1953 performance, to me, is the absolute best. EMI has issued and reissued a number of times of the same Furtwängler's 1954 performance, which, masterful as it is, sounds a little tired next to this 1953 recording. 1950 performance was available in various foreign labels, but I haven't kept track of them. The novelty of the 1950 Salzburg Festival revival of Don Giovanni is to have Titto Gobbi at the title role and Erich Kunz as Leporello.
In this 1953 performance, all performers are in the top form. Siepi is an unsurpassed Don; Schwarzkopf an ideal (and fiery) Elvira. The list goes on. However, the dominating contribution comes from the direction of Wilhelm Furtwängler. From the first bar, the seed of the tragedy is planted and the opera grows like an organic whole. I have never been able to stop before the last note fades into the air. It was like going through a ritual each time I listen this performance, and I come out a different man. Absolutely absorbing.
Some technical information. Just to state the obvious: This mono live-recording is certainly not for the audiophiles. There are numerous releases of this performance, but to my knowledge this Orfeo CD is the only "official release" by the Salzburger Festspiele, if that means anything. (The original tape is missing and all available to the engineers are a collection of in-house and private recordings.) I have 2 releases and this Orfeo has slighly better sound than the other, but both are quite acceptable. Therefore, if money is a concern, you might want to go for a far less-expensive (pirate) releases from different labels. Just make sure that it is the 1953 performance.
Unfortunately, this recording does not come with the libretto. (At this price, it is unconscionable!) Only synopsis and a few articles on the background of the recording are printed in the booklet. However, if you are reading a review of this old recording, you probably have many versions in your possession and some of them ought to have the libretto. Furthermore, the libretti are readily available on the web. (See Comment below, for example.)
Also recommended is a DVD of Paul Czinner's color film of Furtwängler's 1954 studio performance, still my favorite of all DVDs of this masterpiece. In fact, it's my very first purchase of any music DVD! If you can't stand 1953 live mono sound, this film has far better (still mono) sound and quite good (remastered) visual.
This is one recording any lover of Don Giovanni should not live without.
My highest recommendation.
"The question of tempo in Don Giovanni has been raised by amateurs and music critics who feel that it is their duty to be my adversaries on a dogmatic basis. Principally, in my opinion, one can dwell on the tempos, accepting or rejecting them, only in connection with the overall conception of making music. A tempo is not a question of taste, but the natural expression of a particular work. Furthermore, the tempo in many cases is ductile, elastic."
-- Wilhelm Furtwängler, in a letter to Dimitri Mitropoulos."