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Subject: Re: The 1937 Salzburg Don Giovanni
From: S P <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:S P <[log in to unmask]>
Date:Mon, 26 Feb 2018 08:05:44 +0000

text/plain (131 lines)

Dear James,
Have you or anyone interested in this performance in this group heard the issue by Immortal Performances (Please see the flyer of its late 2017 releases shown on its website at:
Henry Fogel and Ken Meltzer, two reviewers for the Fanfare magazine, had received advanced copies from Immortal Performances and invariably given the release quite glowing reviews both in terms of the performance and the remastering by Richard Caniell, in the Nov/Dec 2017 issue of the Fanfare magazine. The reviews are cited below for your reference.
MOZART  Don Giovanni • Bruno Walter, cond; Ezio Pinza (Don Giovanni); Elisabeth Rethberg (Donna Anna); Luise Helletsgruber (Donna Elvira); Margit Bokor (Zerlina);Dino Borgioli (DonOttavio);Virgilio Lazzari (Leporello); Carl Ettl (Masetto);Herbert Alsen (Commendatore); Vienna St Op Ch; Vienna P • IMMORTAL PERFORMANCES 1091-3 mono (3 CDs:217:39) Live: Salzburg Festival 1937 

& Don Giovanni: Act II, excerpt. Laszlo Halasz, cond; Ezio Pinza(Don Giovanni); Vivian Della Chiesa (Donna Elvira); Margit Bokor (Zerlina);Tito Schipa (DonOttavio); LoenzoAlvary (Leporello); Carlos Alexander (Masetto); O of the St. Louis Op. Live, St. Louis 4/16/41. MOZART Symphony No. 35. Bruno Walter, cond; New York P. Live, New York1/4/53

"From the first two chords of the Overture, we know thisperformance of Don Giovanni will emphasize the dramatic. The two chords come down like hammerblows, and when followed by a beautifully shaped Overture they foretell thatthroughout the opera both aspects of Mozart’s dramagiocoso will exist alongside each other and form a unified whole. Thisperformance has long been available in transfers that did it little justicewith their pinched, compressed sound resulting from heavy-handed noisesuppression. In addition, many of those releases removed all applause in orderto squeeze the performance onto two discs, thus removing some of the importantatmosphere surrounding a live performance. Immortal Performances has opened upthe sound remarkably well, and restored the applause. It also filled in thethird disc with interesting material too. 

The sound quality might be the first thing that strikes you whenlistening to this. One sets the bar quite low for a 1937 broadcast or, in thiscase, Selenophone recording, and hearing it on Melodram, Andromeda, and Legato,as I have, would have kept the bar low. But this transfer presents a completelydifferent sonic world. The orchestra and the voices have color, there is realdynamic range (painstakingly restored by Richard Caniell), and the sense of artificialcompression hanging over all prior releases is gone. This comes close to whatone might expect from a well-produced 1937 studio recording. 

In his superb notes in the accompanying booklet, Fanfare’s James Altena compares in considerable and enlightening detailthis 1937 Salzburg Don Giovanni with the more widely distributed 1942 Met broadcast, also withPinza and Walter. Comparing the two myself (which I did before reading hisnotes) I came to a considerable preference for this one, and although Altenabrings a writer’s objectivity to his notes, I suspect he feels similarly. I’mnot sure I share his view about the influence of the respective politicalclimates in 1937 Austria and 1942 New York on the two performances, though itis not an unreasonable case. But for whatever reason, there is more compellingdrama and intensity to be heard in the Salzburg performance. There is a warmthand flexibility to the conducting in Salzburg that provides a strong contrastto the sharply accented dramatic moments in the score. The Met performance iswonderful, to be sure, but a bit less flexible. Also, the Vienna Philharmonicis considerably better at executing the music than the 1942 Metropolitan OperaOrchestra. 

What is really astonishing in this performance is the almostperfect singer-orchestra ensemble, even in the fast ensembles. Walter’s temposare brisk throughout both performances, although Salzburg finds him slightlymore extreme at both ends of the tempo spectrum. If your image of Walter is oneof the genial, easy-going conductor who might lack somewhat in dramaticintensity, this performance will come as a shock to you. The drive andwhite-heat he brings, for instance, to the finale of act I is quite remarkable.At the same time, he is outstanding in his flexibility and warmth in thelyrical moments. He and Borgioli, for example, are completely in synch in “Ilmio tesoro,” and the same can be said for Walter and Rethberg in “Non mi dir.” 

As for Pinza, he remains the greatest Don Giovanni on records, butagain I have to give a nod of preference to this 1937 Salzburg performance.First of all, the singer was 45 years old here, and 50 by the time of the Metbroadcast. While he was still in superb voice in 1942, there is more richnessof color in the timbre here, something not apparent on prior releases of thisperformance. Surely one of the greatest bass voices since the invention ofrecordings, Pinza added to his vocal abilities a keen sense of drama andintelligent and innate sense of musical style (despite the fact that hereputedly could not read music). He worked closely with the great conductors(particularly Toscanini, Serafin, and Walter) and absorbed ideas from all ofthem. His Don is always suave, always has an extraordinarily strong presence,whatever the scene. His singing in “Là ci darem la mano” could seduce a stone,and the same for his Serenade. His characterization of the Don encompasses theintimate and tender and the overtly machismo aspects of his character (e.g.,the graveyard confrontation with the statue-come-to-life). His rhythmic pulseis innately firm, and the evenness of his tonal emission is a model for allsingers. 

Elisabeth Rethberg was, of course, also one of the great singersof her generation. She was 43 at the time of this performance, and had beensinging for 15 years, mainly very heavy roles. Therefore, a touch of sheen hasgone from the voice, but only a touch. Her first scene is a bit harsh, but Ihave never heard it not be so. I don’t think it represents Mozart’s best vocalwriting, even considering that he was trying to reflect the drama of themoment. But her two big arias are splendidly sung, with firmness of line andbeauty of tone. Although Rose Bampton is quite good in the 1942 Metperformance, the elegance of Rethberg’s singing and the beautiful glow in thecenter of the voice make her Anna the more satisfying of the two. 

I would have to lean in the other direction for Donna Elvira. Theprize for beauty of tone goes to Jarmila Novotná in the Met broadcast. LuiseHelletsgruber’s timbre has an edge to it that never completely goes away. It isnot serious, though, and judged on its own merits rather than in comparison toNovotná, Helletsgruber manages the coloratura demands of the role very well andconvincingly portrays an Elvira whose principal characteristic is pride, ratherthan desperation (as we often hear). 

Both performances feature fine tenors as Don Ottavio, but it mustbe said that as good as Charles Kullman is for the Met, Dino Borgioli is trulyremarkable here. This tenor flew under the radar during his career because ofTito Schipa’s fame, but he did make the first electrical recordings of Rigoletto and TheBarber of Seville and had a very important career (despite singing for only oneseason at the Met). I know of no performance of this opera in any recorded formthat can boast an Ottavio better than this (and possibly none as good). Thetone is sweet and caressing, the breath control is almost as impressive asMcCormack on his classic recording of Ilmio tesoro, and the character comesacross not as a wimp but as a man with convictions and honor at the core. Whenold-timers talk about “Golden Age” singing, this is what they mean. 

Virgilio Lazzari’s Leporello is more idiomatic and natural thanAlexander Kipnis’s, particularly given Lazzari’s comfort with the Italianlanguage. But it must be noted that Kipnis was a truly great singer whose vocalpresence was unmatched. Altena correctly points out that the two portray verydifferent characters. Kipnis’s Leporello is quite clearly a co-conspirator ofDon Giovanni, a servant with a force of personality that one wonders if the Donwould really have tolerated. Lazzari is more clearly in a subservient role, andhis lighter voice makes a better contrast with Pinza’s. Both Leporellos arevery strong, with Lazzari perhaps being closer to what Mozart had in mind.Certainly, Lazzari is technically stronger, and more natural with the languagein the recitatives. 

As Zerlina and Masetto the Met clearly has the more famous pair ofsingers in Bidù Sayão and Mack Harrell. However, Salzburg’s Margit Bokor andCarl Ettl do very well; perhaps the most important difference is the sheerbeauty of sound produced by Sayão. As Altena observes in his notes, theclearest preference in casting goes to the Met in the role of the Commendatore.Norman Cordon makes a wonderfully resonant and firm Commendatore (and statue);Herbert Alsen is vocally unfocussed and unsteady, and at times out of tune—asurprising choice for Bruno Walter to make in this brief but dramaticallycrucial role. 

The bonus tracks are surely worthy additions to the Mozart and theBruno Walter catalogs. The first part of the second act of DonGiovanni from a 1941 St. Louis Opera broadcast is in particular valuablebecause of Tito Schipa’s Ottavio. Unfortunately, the broadcast network had itsinflexible rules about broadcast length, and the announcer comes in right overthe great tenor during Il mio tesoro.Caniell edits in the completion of the aria from Schipa’s 1927 RCA recording.Just so we can hear what idiocy dominated American radio networks, on aseparate track this set provides the commentator’s interruption of Schipa’ssinging! The sound from an off-the-air recording is thin and constricted, butCaniell has fixed pitch problems and cleaned it up as well as he could. 

A more valuable bonus is the complete performance of Mozart’s“Haffner” Symphony, from a 1953 New York Philharmonic broadcast. Thisperformance dates from around the time Walter recording many of the late Mozartsymphonies with the New York Philharmonic for Columbia. Those were latersupplanted by stereo recordings with the Los Angeles-based Columbia SymphonyOrchestra, but I always felt the earlier readings were more satisfyingly tautand shaped. This live performance compares favorably to the studio recording,with a bit more intensity of playing, more abandon in the outer movementsparticularly. There is a wonderful edge-of-the-seat quality from the finalethat one doesn’t get in the studio recording. I am told there was a Japaneserelease of this performance of the “Haffner” Symphony, but in poorer qualityand with very limited circulation. 

No one can claim this should be the only recording of DonGiovanni in a collection. But I would also not feel my collection to becomplete if it lacked this. Those who believe in only an HIP approach (asopposed to believing that the HIP approach is one wayto explore Mozart for today’s listeners) will probably find it too “Romantic.”But in fact, this is highly disciplined, if flexible, Mozart, and it is broughtto life as a vivid music drama that explores the entire range of humanemotions, and does so with extraordinary musical achievement. The accompanyingbooklet, in addition to Altena’s superb essay, contains wonderful photographsand commentary on the recordings by Caniell. For those of us who thought thatthis historic performance would never be available in listenable sound, thisrelease is a miraculous gift." 
Henry Fogel


"In August of 1937 at the Salzburg Festival, Bruno Walter led ahandpicked cast of international artists and the Vienna Philharmonic inperformances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.We are indeed fortunate that one of the performances was preserved by aSelenophone, a machine that used film stock to make audio recordings. Thisperformance has previously been issued by several labels that specialize inlive recordings. Richard Caniell and Immortal Performances have takenpainstaking efforts to restore the Selenophone recording, and for good reason.There is no question the 1937 Don Giovanni is one of the great realizations of this masterpiece. Walter andthe Vienna Philharmonic set the stage from the very start, with a searingrendition of the Overture’s opening chords, the same ones that, in the finalscene, accompany the arrival of the statue of the murdered Commendatore,summoning Giovanni to account for his many sins. The ensuing chromatic anddissonant writing in the slow-tempo introduction (taken very broadly) is playedto the hilt, giving the music an almost Romantic flavor. From there, the musicsegues to the principal Molto allegro (perhaps Mozart’s instrumental portrait of the Don himself). Here,the music is all energy, optimism, and deftness. And because Walter and theVienna Philharmonic interpret the slow-tempo introduction with such intensity,the ensuing contrast is all the more striking, and the effect all the moreexhilarating. 

I go to some lengths to delineate all this because I believe thatthe entirety of this 1937 Don Giovanni,perhaps as much as any performance I’ve ever heard, achieves an ideal balanceof the elements of light and dark that are the substance of Mozart and Lorenzoda Ponte’s dramma giocoso.To give just one more example, Luise Helletsgruber, a superb Donna Elvira,performs “Mi tradì” not only with admirable technical assurance and elegance,but also with the kind of emotional intensity that would not be out of place ina verismoopera.Helletsgruber’s rendition is truly the cry of a broken heart. That performance,impressive in its own right, makes the comedy at the start of the CemeteryScene all the more pointed. And that comedy, in turn, makes the initialconfrontation with the Commendatore’s statue doubly chilling. I could citeliterally dozens and dozens of such moments of light and shade that appearthroughout this unique and brilliant performance, if space allowed. 

The Salzburg principals are, with one exception, uniformlyoutstanding. First and foremost of course is the Giovanni of Ezio Pinza, who possessedall of the attributes to be a Don for the ages. Pinza was a stunningly handsomeand charismatic man with one of the most beautiful bass voices of the 20thcentury, attributes that on their own would have assured a grand career in theworld’s great opera houses. But to Pinza’s credit, he was a serious anddemanding artist who refined his portraits to an exacting musical and dramaticlevel. And few artists relished wedding the Italian language to musicalexpression as did Pinza. In this 1937 performance, Pinza is in his finestvoice, phrasing suavely and employing a host of vocal colors (listen, forexample, to how he connects the recitative to the duet, “Là ci darem la mano”).This is a Don Giovanni who, at every moment, relishes the power his social classand charisma accord him. But in the final confrontation with the Commendatore’sstatue, Pinza’s Don, for the first time, betrays a palpable sense of fear. Hequickly gathers himself, becoming angry and defiant, before the final descentinto Hell. There are several documents of Pinza’s Don Giovanni, both in studioexcerpts, and live performance, but this one strikes me as the best. 

Pinza’s Don has a most worthy foil in bass Virgilio Lazzari asGiovanni’s servant Leporello. For the greater part, Lazzari, another singerexpert in using the Italian language to musical and dramatic effect, plays hisrole with great subtlety. The only exception is a very broad (and very funny)depiction in the final scene of the moment Leporello is caught stealing some ofthe Don’s food. The wonderful Italian tenor Dino Borgioli is a first-rate DonOttavio. Borgioli sings beautifully and aristocratically throughout, but thisis clearly also a Don Ottavio with spine, a man who would not be afraid toconfront the Don. Borgioli does need several breaths to negotiate the run on“tornar” in “Il mio tesoro” (performed at a measured tempo), but he does sowith elegance and musicality. Like Pinza and Lazzari, Borgioli is a master ofItalian diction and color. Carl Ettl is a fine Masetto, one who, like hiscolleagues, does not overplay the comedy. The only chink in the armor on themen’s side is the Commendatore of Herbert Alsen, who is pressed by the role’sdemands. It is a credit to Pinza, Walter, and the Vienna Philharmonic (who playmagnificently throughout) that the final scene nevertheless does not lose anounce of dramatic fire. 

The trio of female leads is likewise of the highest order. At thetime of this performance, soprano Elisabeth Rethberg was in her early 40s, andhad already performed such roles as Aida, Sieglinde in DieWalküre, Elsa in Lohengrin, and Leonora in Il trovatore.Still, Rethberg maintained the vocal flexibility and shimmering tone that arean ideal match for Mozart’s Donna Anna. Rethberg sings beautifully, alwaysconveying Donna Anna’s nobility and passion. Like Helletsgruber’sinterpretation of “Mi tradì,” Rethberg’s magnificent and heartfelt performanceof “Non mi dir” ideally sets the stage for the ebb and flow of the opera’sfinal scene. Luise Helletsgruber (a mainstay at the Glyndebourne Festivalduring the mid-1930s) as previously mentioned, is outstanding as Donna Elvira.Helletsgruber makes Elvira a three-dimensional character, a person who knowsher continued infatuation with the Don is self-destructive, but cannot helpherself. Margit Bokor brings a lovely lyric soprano voice, admirablemusicality, and the refusal to engage in the kinds of stock soubrettemannerisms that mar some other performances of Zerlina. 

The Selenophone recording of this performance, housed in the NewYork Public Library, posed many problems, including cramped acoustics,prominent surface noise, and variable pitch. While some past releases eitherapplied a broad-based noise reduction system (or none at all), ImmortalPerformances producer Richard Caniell decided to restore the recording note bynote, hand-removing each surface tick and pop, equalizing the pitch, andworking to assure that the color and dynamics of the performance received thefullest possible due. The result, while still not equal to studio recordings ofthe time, is at long last more than adequate to enjoy this amazing performancein all its glory. 

The third disc also includes an excerpt of act II of DonGiovanni, broadcast from the stageof the St. Louis Opera on April 16, 1941. The sound is certainly better thanits 1937 counterpart. For me, the chief raisond’être for this excerpt is the rare opportunity to hear the great Italianlyric tenor Tito Schipa in live performance. Schipa, in his early 50s, and witha wisp of a voice, conjures sublime magic with his imaginative phrasing,diction, and palette of colors. It’s a shame that the broadcast cut off hisrendition of “Il mio tesoro” in mid-course (Caniell uses Schipa’s 1927 studiorecording to complete the aria). Finally, there is a January 4, 1953 New YorkPhilharmonic broadcast of Walter conducting Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony,similar in approach to the artist’s fine contemporaneous Columbia studiorecording, but with the extra level of intensity inspired by live performance.The booklet includes excellent and insightful notes by my Fanfarecolleague James Altena, and by Richard Caniell, as well as a plotsynopsis and artist bios. This is one of the truly great performances of DonGiovanni. Thanks to Immortal Performancesfor giving it new life." Ken Meltzer

This article originally appeared in Issue 41:2 (Nov/Dec 2017) of FanfareMagazine.


    On Monday, 26 February 2018, 12:48, James Camner <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

 It's not a flawless sound recording by any means, just a titanic performance that is 
now reasonably accessible. IMHO, if this sound was comparable to say the Reiner 
Flagstad Melchior Tristan which was recorded in the previous year by EMI and which is 
also in a class by itself, no other recorded Don Giovanni performance could touch it. I 
hope that someone does issue the recording mastered from the Toscanini material.

I don't believe that Andante ever got around to putting out the 1937 Don Giovanni 
from Salzburg (if they did, I'd love to get a copy).  I've heard excerpts from the 
Toscanini collection Don Giovanni tapes at Lincoln Center and they are superior to 
what Andromeda, at least the little bit I heard of them were, but the Andromeda does 
have a lot of presence and impact and the tone quality of the singers like Rethberg 
really come through loud and clear. Borgioli's star turn as Don Ottavio is a revelation, 
no one else comes close. And Pinza in 1937, OMG!

I'm not so sure that the Toscanini Archive selenophone recordings are the source for 
the Andromeda issue of the 1937 Salzburg Don Giovanni, but I don't know. Does 
anyone on the list actually know beyond speculation? 

James Camner

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