Artistic Quality 8/8 Sound Quality
Whew! This may not be the most perfectly sung Don Giovanni available, but hands down it's the most exciting--more so than the Gardiner, which is more polished, and up there with the old, and somewhat old-fashioned Mitropolous on Sony. The Mahler Chamber Orchestra plays on modern instruments but with period timpani (which add great "thwap" and tension whenever they appear) and period brass (which makes Mozart's score buzz with agitation every time they show up). Twenty-three-year-old conductor Daniel Harding leads a furiously fast reading, with recitatives flying by at conversational speed. Indeed, these busy characters interact in what feels like real time (the recording is taken from a live performance, so there's plenty of dramatic give-and-take, and stage noises rarely get in the way). The final chord of the penultimate scene is held to a point of almost unbearable tension and the final sextet begins immediately on its heels. The effect is stunning.
In Peter Mattei (a Swede of Italian background, I believe) we have a Don as spontaneous and mercurial as we'd like. His light, Hampson-like baritone is agile and beautiful (even more than Hampson's), and vocally at least, he's a smooth actor, capable of both real seduction--in "La ci darem..." and the second act Serenade--and stupendous arrogance. He polishes off "Finch'an del vino" in 70 seconds and never backs down--rhythmically or tonally--even when faced with eternal damnation. The Leporello is Gilles Cachemaille, so superb with Arnold Östman on L'Oiseau-Lyre but even better here, singing with real bite. Mark Padmore's Don Ottavio is very light-voiced, but he focuses the tone right on the text and is very effective nonetheless (although Harding almost drives him crazy in "Il mio tesoro"). Till Fechner's Masetto is outraged but servile and Gudjon Oskarsson's Commendatore has great presence, even without a true booming-bass sound.
The women, aside from Veronique Gens' daring, offended, remarkably well sung Donna Elvira, are more problematic. Carmela Remigio's Donna Anna is nicely conceived and she has all the notes--even for the most challenging parts of "Non mi dir"--but the sound itself has little appeal. Lisa Larson's Zerlina strays from pitch often enough to be irritating. As suggested above, the playing of the orchestra is first rate (though a bit scrambly in very fast passages) and the 12-voice chorus has all the energy needed. I've played this set five times now, and while I keep wishing for more firmness from the two troublesome women (and a bit more heft from our Ottavio), I find this set irresistible.