Notes and Editorial Reviews
This new set has a great deal to commend it to your attention, a worthy addition to Gardiner's distinguished and thought-provoking interpretations of Mozart's operas on disc. Besides the advantages in spontaneity and dramatic conviction afforded by a live recording, I admire the unanimity of approach achieved by a true ensemble with a well-integrated cast totally dedicated to their conductor and to the work in hand. And, of course, the exact, inevitable pacing adopted by Gardiner. No wonder AP averred of the London version that "on the whole Mozart performances don't come much better than this".
Let me put some flesh on this encomium. The recitative is sung with exemplary care over pacing so that it sounds as it
should, like heightened and vivid conversation, often to electrifying effect. As an adjunct, ensembles, particularly the Act I quartet, are also treated conversationally, as if one were overhearing four people giving their opinions on a situation in the street. The orchestra, perfectly balanced with the singers in a very immediate acoustic, complements them, as it were 'sings' with them - listen to the sad strings in the opening duet for Anna and Octavio echoing Anna's distraught feelings; or - much later - the sighing woodwinds in Anna's Act 2 aria, or the disciplined, uptight violins in Elvira's "Ah chi mi dice mai", or the mandolin, surely never so seductive, in Giovanni's Serenade, meltingly sung by Gilfry. These are but a few instances among so many, where the players underpin the relevant participant's emotions.
That contrasts with, and complements, Gardiner's expected ability to empathize with the demonic aspects of the score, as in Giovanni's drinking song and the final moments of Act I, which fairly bristle with rhythmic energy without becoming rushed. The arrival of the statue at Giovanni's dinner-table is tremendous, the period trombones and timpani achieving an appropriately brusque, fearsome attack. Throughout this scene, Gardiner's familiar penchant for sharp accents is wholly appropriate; elsewhere he is sometimes too insistent.
As a whole, tempos not only seem right on their own account but also, all-importantly, carry conviction in relation to each other. Where so many conductors today, including Norrington on EMI, rush "Mi tradi", Gardiner prefers a more meditative, inward approach, allowing his soft-grained Elvira to make the most of the aria's expressive possibilities. Then, within numbers, as in the Serenade, his flexibility and rubato permit the singer to add delicate grace-notes and embellishments which, through the experience of several performances, have become wholly integrated into the vocal line, not optional extras. "Dalla sua pace" is a fine exemplar of that, Gardiner phrasing with his tenor and then allowing him to decorate the reprise.
As in his other Mozart opera sets, Gardiner benefits from working with singers whom he knows well. Gilfry's Giovanni is lithe, ebullient, keen to exert his sexual prowess; an obvious charmer, at times surprisingly tender yet with the iron will only just below the surface. Suave and appealing, delivered in a real baritone timbre, his Giovanni is as accomplished as any on disc. I like the way he darkens his tone to confuse Leporello at the start of the cemetery scene. Ildebrando d'Arcangelo was the discovery of these performances: this young bassbaritone is a lively foil to his master and on his own a real showman, as "Madamina" indicates, a number all the better for a brisk speed. It may be complained that, on disc, the pair sound too much alike, but that hardly worries me. Another young Italian, Silvestrelli, is a magnificently sonorous, implacable Commendatore.
Orgonasova once more reveals herself a paragon as regards steady tone and deft technique - no need here to slow down for the coloratura at the end of "Non mi dir" - and she brings to her recounting of the attempted seduction a real feeling of immediacy. In "Or sai chi l'onore" she manages just the right kind of supple urgency. As Anna, Margiono sometimes sounds a shade stretched technically, but consoles us with the luminous, inward quality of her voice and her reading of the role, something innate that cannot be learnt. I would like slightly more insistent consonants from both donne, a skill that they could learn from listening to their male colleagues. Prégardien's Ottavio is mellifluous, finely honed, more individual in timbre and phrase than Ainsley's for Norrington, though not as fluent in runs: he sounds a shade hurried in an unduly quick "II mio tesoro" in an appendix, not Gardiner's finest moment here. Neither the Zerlina nor the Masetto, though both sing smoothly, matches the more lively characterization of Finley and Argenta for Norrington.
Gardiner uses the complete Vienna score in the opera, assigning the Prague alternatives to an appendix. The musicologist writing in the booklet makes a convincing historic case for including the Zerlina/Leporello duet in the performance and rather chafes at the tradition of conflating the two versions, but in practice rather than theory the conflation seems to work best: that duet simply holds up the action for no very good purpose. But I do prefer Archiv's decision on tracking as compared with the EMI arrangement, where we move back and forth between versions, necessitating complicated reprogramming if one wants a more sensible order.
By a very small margin I prefer Gardiner to Norrington, much as I like what the latter achieves in his version. Gardiner's faster tempo for the socalled 'Champagne' aria, slower ones for the 'Mask' trio, Serenade and Elvira's aria seem the more sensible choices. Where the singers are concerned there are inevitably swings and roundabouts. In the case of Giovanni and the two donne honours are about even, though Gilfry is certainly a more interesting Giovanni than Andreas Schmidt. Gardiner scores with his Leporello and Commendatore, Norrington with his Zerlina and Masetto.
Nobody in their right senses is ever going to say there is one, ideal version of Don Giovanni; the work has far too many facets for that. Several of the 'conventional' readings have long-lasting virtues that are not easily to be dismissed, and will be preferred by those wanting a more traditional, less fierily immediate reading then Gardiner's or Norrington's but for sheer theatrical élan complemented by the live recording, the new one is now at the top of my pile, particularly when one also takes into account a recording that is wonderfully truthful and lifelike (some nicely judged perspectives where called for by the stage action), the few stage noises and minimal audience reaction easily overlooked.
-- Gramophone [8/1995]
Works on This Recording
Don Giovanni, K 527 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Eirian James (Soprano),
Julian Clarkson (Baritone),
Ildebrando D'Arcangelo (Bass),
Charlotte Margiono (Soprano),
Luba Orgonasova (Soprano),
Christoph Prégardien (Tenor),
Andrea Silvestrelli (Bass),
Rodney Gilfry (Bass)
John Eliot Gardiner
English Baroque Soloists,
Written: 1787; Prague
Date of Recording: 07/1994
Venue: Forum at Schlosspark, Ludwigsburg
Length: 178 Minutes 4 Secs.
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