LABELS: Arte Nova
WORKS: Don Giovanni
PERFORMER: Kwangchul Youn, Regina Schörg, Heidi Brunner, Jeffrey Francis, Maurizio Muraro, Birgid Steinberger, Reinhard Mayr, Reinhard Hagen; Chorus Sine Nomine, Vienna RSO/Bertrand de Billy
CATALOGUE NO: 74321 98338 2
Bertrand de Billy herewith completes his trio of recordings of Mozart operas on Da Ponte librettos. As in the Figaro I reviewed last October, the French conductor – chief of the Vienna orchestra on duty here and also Barcelona’s Liceu Theatre – leads a Mozart reading of exceptional qualities.
From the first bars this shows itself a lean-limbed, tinglingly dramatic Don Giovanni, employing modern instruments and period performing styles. (The version given is the Prague original, with the usually included later Viennese variants appended on disc 3.) It moves fast – in this de Billy’s account improves considerably upon Daniel Harding’s recent ‘live from Aix’ recording (Virgin, reviewed August 2000), a Mozart performance of similar approach and stylistic grounding – but it seldom sounds driven. Moments of wit and irony register vividly in the instrumental commentary. The closing sextet, taken more broadly than expected, is not the letdown it sometimes seems to be after the cataclysms of the previous scene, but a wonderfully natural and satisfying conclusion to what, after all, is termed on its title page a dramma giocoso.
All three of de Billy’s Mozart-Da Ponte recording casts share singers, and have in common virtues of dramatic alertness, sharp-cut verbal delivery (the Italian Leporello particularly deft) and light-footed musicality. A third time, however, the absence of any truly outstanding Mozart voices proves telling. The men score over the women – all three sopranos are monochrome and too similar of timbre – and in the title role the Korean Kwangchul Youn at least approaches the front rank; but having a bass Giovanni alongside a bass Leporello and Masetto leads to both heaviness and moments of confusion. My own favourite Don Giovanni recordings have not been displaced: the classic Giulini and Haitink sets (both EMI), Gardiner’s on period instruments (DG Archiv), and, in some ways the best of all worlds, Mackerras’s (Telarc). Still, for its conducting this latest is greatly worth hearing.