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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 13:11:59 +0000

text/plain (417 lines)

If ordering directly from Immortal Performances is not easy, you could wait for Norbeck, Peters & Ford to bring in the stocks and order fro them instead.


    On Monday, 26 February 2018, 16:48, James Camner <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

 I am so intrigued I’ll try to order the set.  I really appreciate your bringing it to my attention.  
It doesn’t seem so easy to order from those folks but I will give it a go. 
I don’t understand staying with CDs which are obsolete. 

Sent from my iPhone
On Feb 26, 2018, at 12:05 AM, S P <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

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 (Don
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 (Don
Ottavio); Loenzo
Alvary (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 York

  "From the first two chords of the Overture, we know this
performance of Don Giovanni will emphasize the dramatic. The two chords come down like hammer
blows, and when followed by a beautifully shaped Overture they foretell that
throughout the opera both aspects of Mozart’s drama
giocoso will exist alongside each other and form a unified whole. This
performance has long been available in transfers that did it little justice
with their pinched, compressed sound resulting from heavy-handed noise
suppression. In addition, many of those releases removed all applause in order
to squeeze the performance onto two discs, thus removing some of the important
atmosphere surrounding a live performance. Immortal Performances has opened up
the sound remarkably well, and restored the applause. It also filled in the
third disc with interesting material too. 
The sound quality might be the first thing that strikes you when
listening to this. One sets the bar quite low for a 1937 broadcast or, in this
case, Selenophone recording, and hearing it on Melodram, Andromeda, and Legato,
as I have, would have kept the bar low. But this transfer presents a completely
different sonic world. The orchestra and the voices have color, there is real
dynamic range (painstakingly restored by Richard Caniell), and the sense of artificial
compression hanging over all prior releases is gone. This comes close to what
one 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 detail
this 1937 Salzburg Don Giovanni with the more widely distributed 1942 Met broadcast, also with
Pinza and Walter. Comparing the two myself (which I did before reading his
notes) I came to a considerable preference for this one, and although Altena
brings a writer’s objectivity to his notes, I suspect he feels similarly. I’m
not sure I share his view about the influence of the respective political
climates in 1937 Austria and 1942 New York on the two performances, though it
is not an unreasonable case. But for whatever reason, there is more compelling
drama and intensity to be heard in the Salzburg performance. There is a warmth
and flexibility to the conducting in Salzburg that provides a strong contrast
to the sharply accented dramatic moments in the score. The Met performance is
wonderful, to be sure, but a bit less flexible. Also, the Vienna Philharmonic
is considerably better at executing the music than the 1942 Metropolitan Opera
Orchestra. What is really astonishing in this performance is the almost
perfect singer-orchestra ensemble, even in the fast ensembles. Walter’s tempos
are brisk throughout both performances, although Salzburg finds him slightly
more extreme at both ends of the tempo spectrum. If your image of Walter is one
of the genial, easy-going conductor who might lack somewhat in dramatic
intensity, this performance will come as a shock to you. The drive and
white-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 the
lyrical moments. He and Borgioli, for example, are completely in synch in “Il
mio 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, but
again 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 Met
broadcast. While he was still in superb voice in 1942, there is more richness
of color in the timbre here, something not apparent on prior releases of this
performance. Surely one of the greatest bass voices since the invention of
recordings, Pinza added to his vocal abilities a keen sense of drama and
intelligent and innate sense of musical style (despite the fact that he
reputedly could not read music). He worked closely with the great conductors
(particularly Toscanini, Serafin, and Walter) and absorbed ideas from all of
them. 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 the
intimate and tender and the overtly machismo aspects of his character (e.g.,
the graveyard confrontation with the statue-come-to-life). His rhythmic pulse
is innately firm, and the evenness of his tonal emission is a model for all
Elisabeth Rethberg was, of course, also one of the great singers
of her generation. She was 43 at the time of this performance, and had been
singing for 15 years, mainly very heavy roles. Therefore, a touch of sheen has
gone from the voice, but only a touch. Her first scene is a bit harsh, but I
have never heard it not be so. I don’t think it represents Mozart’s best vocal
writing, even considering that he was trying to reflect the drama of the
moment. But her two big arias are splendidly sung, with firmness of line and
beauty of tone. Although Rose Bampton is quite good in the 1942 Met
performance, the elegance of Rethberg’s singing and the beautiful glow in the
center of the voice make her Anna the more satisfying of the two. I would have to lean in the other direction for Donna Elvira. The
prize for beauty of tone goes to Jarmila Novotná in the Met broadcast. Luise
Helletsgruber’s timbre has an edge to it that never completely goes away. It is
not serious, though, and judged on its own merits rather than in comparison to
Novotná, Helletsgruber manages the coloratura demands of the role very well and
convincingly portrays an Elvira whose principal characteristic is pride, rather
than desperation (as we often hear). 
Both performances feature fine tenors as Don Ottavio, but it must
be said that as good as Charles Kullman is for the Met, Dino Borgioli is truly
remarkable here. This tenor flew under the radar during his career because of
Tito Schipa’s fame, but he did make the first electrical recordings of Rigoletto and The
Barber of Seville and had a very important career (despite singing for only one
season at the Met). I know of no performance of this opera in any recorded form
that can boast an Ottavio better than this (and possibly none as good). The
tone is sweet and caressing, the breath control is almost as impressive as
McCormack on his classic recording of Il
mio tesoro, and the character comes
across not as a wimp but as a man with convictions and honor at the core. When
old-timers talk about “Golden Age” singing, this is what they mean. 
Virgilio Lazzari’s Leporello is more idiomatic and natural than
Alexander Kipnis’s, particularly given Lazzari’s comfort with the Italian
language. But it must be noted that Kipnis was a truly great singer whose vocal
presence was unmatched. Altena correctly points out that the two portray very
different characters. Kipnis’s Leporello is quite clearly a co-conspirator of
Don Giovanni, a servant with a force of personality that one wonders if the Don
would really have tolerated. Lazzari is more clearly in a subservient role, and
his lighter voice makes a better contrast with Pinza’s. Both Leporellos are
very strong, with Lazzari perhaps being closer to what Mozart had in mind.
Certainly, Lazzari is technically stronger, and more natural with the language
in the recitatives. 
As Zerlina and Masetto the Met clearly has the more famous pair of
singers in Bidù Sayão and Mack Harrell. However, Salzburg’s Margit Bokor and
Carl Ettl do very well; perhaps the most important difference is the sheer
beauty of sound produced by Sayão. As Altena observes in his notes, the
clearest 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—a
surprising choice for Bruno Walter to make in this brief but dramatically
crucial role. The bonus tracks are surely worthy additions to the Mozart and the
Bruno Walter catalogs. The first part of the second act of Don
Giovanni from a 1941 St. Louis Opera broadcast is in particular valuable
because of Tito Schipa’s Ottavio. Unfortunately, the broadcast network had its
inflexible rules about broadcast length, and the announcer comes in right over
the 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 a
separate track this set provides the commentator’s interruption of Schipa’s
singing! The sound from an off-the-air recording is thin and constricted, but
Caniell 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. This
performance dates from around the time Walter recording many of the late Mozart
symphonies with the New York Philharmonic for Columbia. Those were later
supplanted by stereo recordings with the Los Angeles-based Columbia Symphony
Orchestra, but I always felt the earlier readings were more satisfyingly taut
and shaped. This live performance compares favorably to the studio recording,
with a bit more intensity of playing, more abandon in the outer movements
particularly. There is a wonderful edge-of-the-seat quality from the finale
that one doesn’t get in the studio recording. I am told there was a Japanese
release of this performance of the “Haffner” Symphony, but in poorer quality
and with very limited circulation. 
No one can claim this should be the only recording of Don
Giovanni in a collection. But I would also not feel my collection to be
complete if it lacked this. Those who believe in only an HIP approach (as
opposed to believing that the HIP approach is one way
to 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 brought
to life as a vivid music drama that explores the entire range of human
emotions, and does so with extraordinary musical achievement. The accompanying
booklet, in addition to Altena’s superb essay, contains wonderful photographs
and commentary on the recordings by Caniell. For those of us who thought that
this historic performance would never be available in listenable sound, this
release is a miraculous gift." 
Henry Fogel  ******  "In August of 1937 at the Salzburg Festival, Bruno Walter led a
handpicked cast of international artists and the Vienna Philharmonic in
performances of Mozart’s Don Giovanni.
We are indeed fortunate that one of the performances was preserved by a
Selenophone, a machine that used film stock to make audio recordings. This
performance has previously been issued by several labels that specialize in
live recordings. Richard Caniell and Immortal Performances have taken
painstaking 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 and
the Vienna Philharmonic set the stage from the very start, with a searing
rendition of the Overture’s opening chords, the same ones that, in the final
scene, accompany the arrival of the statue of the murdered Commendatore,
summoning Giovanni to account for his many sins. The ensuing chromatic and
dissonant writing in the slow-tempo introduction (taken very broadly) is played
to the hilt, giving the music an almost Romantic flavor. From there, the music
segues 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 the
Vienna Philharmonic interpret the slow-tempo introduction with such intensity,
the ensuing contrast is all the more striking, and the effect all the more
I go to some lengths to delineate all this because I believe that
the entirety of this 1937 Don Giovanni,
perhaps as much as any performance I’ve ever heard, achieves an ideal balance
of the elements of light and dark that are the substance of Mozart and Lorenzo
da 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 in
a 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 Cemetery
Scene all the more pointed. And that comedy, in turn, makes the initial
confrontation with the Commendatore’s statue doubly chilling. I could cite
literally dozens and dozens of such moments of light and shade that appear
throughout this unique and brilliant performance, if space allowed. 
The Salzburg principals are, with one exception, uniformly
outstanding. First and foremost of course is the Giovanni of Ezio Pinza, who possessed
all of the attributes to be a Don for the ages. Pinza was a stunningly handsome
and charismatic man with one of the most beautiful bass voices of the 20th
century, attributes that on their own would have assured a grand career in the
world’s great opera houses. But to Pinza’s credit, he was a serious and
demanding artist who refined his portraits to an exacting musical and dramatic
level. And few artists relished wedding the Italian language to musical
expression as did Pinza. In this 1937 performance, Pinza is in his finest
voice, phrasing suavely and employing a host of vocal colors (listen, for
example, 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 class
and charisma accord him. But in the final confrontation with the Commendatore’s
statue, Pinza’s Don, for the first time, betrays a palpable sense of fear. He
quickly gathers himself, becoming angry and defiant, before the final descent
into Hell. There are several documents of Pinza’s Don Giovanni, both in studio
excerpts, and live performance, but this one strikes me as the best. 
Pinza’s Don has a most worthy foil in bass Virgilio Lazzari as
Giovanni’s servant Leporello. For the greater part, Lazzari, another singer
expert in using the Italian language to musical and dramatic effect, plays his
role 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 of
the Don’s food. The wonderful Italian tenor Dino Borgioli is a first-rate Don
Ottavio. Borgioli sings beautifully and aristocratically throughout, but this
is clearly also a Don Ottavio with spine, a man who would not be afraid to
confront 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 so
with elegance and musicality. Like Pinza and Lazzari, Borgioli is a master of
Italian diction and color. Carl Ettl is a fine Masetto, one who, like his
colleagues, does not overplay the comedy. The only chink in the armor on the
men’s side is the Commendatore of Herbert Alsen, who is pressed by the role’s
demands. It is a credit to Pinza, Walter, and the Vienna Philharmonic (who play
magnificently throughout) that the final scene nevertheless does not lose an
ounce of dramatic fire. 
The trio of female leads is likewise of the highest order. At the
time of this performance, soprano Elisabeth Rethberg was in her early 40s, and
had already performed such roles as Aida, Sieglinde in Die
Walküre, Elsa in Lohengrin, and Leonora in Il trovatore.
Still, Rethberg maintained the vocal flexibility and shimmering tone that are
an ideal match for Mozart’s Donna Anna. Rethberg sings beautifully, always
conveying Donna Anna’s nobility and passion. Like Helletsgruber’s
interpretation of “Mi tradì,” Rethberg’s magnificent and heartfelt performance
of “Non mi dir” ideally sets the stage for the ebb and flow of the opera’s
final scene. Luise Helletsgruber (a mainstay at the Glyndebourne Festival
during the mid-1930s) as previously mentioned, is outstanding as Donna Elvira.
Helletsgruber makes Elvira a three-dimensional character, a person who knows
her continued infatuation with the Don is self-destructive, but cannot help
herself. Margit Bokor brings a lovely lyric soprano voice, admirable
musicality, and the refusal to engage in the kinds of stock soubrette
mannerisms that mar some other performances of Zerlina. 
The Selenophone recording of this performance, housed in the New
York Public Library, posed many problems, including cramped acoustics,
prominent surface noise, and variable pitch. While some past releases either
applied a broad-based noise reduction system (or none at all), Immortal
Performances producer Richard Caniell decided to restore the recording note by
note, hand-removing each surface tick and pop, equalizing the pitch, and
working to assure that the color and dynamics of the performance received the
fullest possible due. The result, while still not equal to studio recordings of
the time, is at long last more than adequate to enjoy this amazing performance
in all its glory. 
The third disc also includes an excerpt of act II of Don
Giovanni, broadcast from the stage
of the St. Louis Opera on April 16, 1941. The sound is certainly better than
its 1937 counterpart. For me, the chief raison
d’être for this excerpt is the rare opportunity to hear the great Italian
lyric tenor Tito Schipa in live performance. Schipa, in his early 50s, and with
a 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 his
rendition of “Il mio tesoro” in mid-course (Caniell uses Schipa’s 1927 studio
recording to complete the aria). Finally, there is a January 4, 1953 New York
Philharmonic broadcast of Walter conducting Mozart’s “Haffner” Symphony,
similar in approach to the artist’s fine contemporaneous Columbia studio
recording, 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 plot
synopsis and artist bios. This is one of the truly great performances of Don
Giovanni. Thanks to Immortal Performances
for 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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