LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: Don Giovanni
PERFORMER: Johannes Weisser, Lorenzo Regazzo, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Olga Pasichnyk, Kennneth Tarver, Sunhai Im, Nikolay Borchev, Alesandro Guerzoni; RIAS Kammerchor; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901964-66
Eagerly awaited by all who, like me, found Jacobs’ Figaro refreshing – perhaps too eagerly? For all its strong points, this doesn’t make anything like the same impact.
Not for want of trying, though. There’s plenty of intelligent insight – the original vocal weights of Giovanni and Anna, perceiving that the ‘Champagne’ aria’s actually about dancing, et cetera. The dubious ‘Window Scene’ is incorporated, with alternative arias as indices. Jacobs’s approach resembles Figaro in shifting emphasis from strings to woodwind and brass, with free-ranging ornamentation, in the piano continuo especially. However, while Figaro relies little on atmosphere, Don Giovanni very strongly does, its quasi-Romantic terrors often string-supported. So some scenes work better than others – on one hand an unusually lively Garden Scene, on the other a Statue Scene which is disappointingly prosaic, for all the majestically rasping trombones. Unlike certain wunderkinds, Jacobs doesn’t try to turn the Commendatore’s swirling scales into baroque decoration; but his Commendatore is dry and undersung, his deficiencies underlined in comparison with David Ward in the recently released 1962 Covent Garden set.
Nor does Jacobs’s cast generally rival his Figaro – Lorenzo Regazzo becomes an effective Leporello, but no Keenlyside or Gens. Johannes Weisser’s Don is rightly youngish but uncharismatic, and while Anna was indeed first sung by a soubrettish voice, Olga Pasichnyk sounds more like a weepy Countess. Alexandrina Pendatchanska’s sour-sweet tone and tragicomic hauteur make her a much finer Elvira. Kenneth Tarver’s Ottavio is mellifluous and elegant, if faintly precious; Nikolay Borchev’s sturdy Masetto is ill-matched to Sunhai Im’s small-voiced, sweet but squeaky Zerlina. Among modern(ish) recordings, those by Claudio Abbado, Arnold Östman, and especially Bernard Haitink who manages to combine darkness with enough sparkle, remain my preferences. Michael Scott Rohan