Josef Triebensee (1772-1846) created the harmonie arrangement of Mozart's Don Giovanni on or about 1788, a year after the opera premeired in Prague. The 20-part wind octet plus double bass rendering has had a fine history with recordings from the likes of Julius Rudel Mozart: Don Giovanni (arranged for Woodwind Octet and Bass by Josef Triebensee) and La Gran Partita (AKA the Zurich Wind Quintet) Mozart: Don Giovanni; Salieri: Armonia Per un Tempio della Notte leading the pack in recent years. This 2007 recording from MDG artists Opera Senza is sure to challenge this pair in the immediate future.
If you are not a fan of harmoniemusik or have not heard Triebensee's transcription for winds, it is of about an hour's duration in most performances (slightly less here) and is comprised of the overture, solos and ensembles with wind instruments substituting for human voices. Harmonie, or wind arrangement, was a way for 18th century aristocrats to perform complex compositions without acquiring (and paying for) an orchestra, soloists and choir. As well as being the orchestrator of this arrangement, Triebensee was himself a composer of some note in his day Concertino/Grand Quintuor.
Compared to the earlier recordings, Opera Senza -- an ensemble taken from the WDR Symphony Orchestra of Cologne -- takes the music at a generally faster pace throughout, getting the whole thing done in less than 59 minutes. This tends to work for and against the inherent humor, drama and pathos of the music -- a morality play on the Don Juan legend. It works spectacularly well in the fabulous first act finale and less well where the music is usually taken with more reserve. In particular, the Don's aria "Den veni alla finestra" is taken so quickly and with such accents it feels like a march instead of a cooing love song. Donna Elvira's aria "Mi tradi Quell' alma ingrata" is similar. The closing number, especially the interplay between the Don, Leporello and the Commendatore -- played sympathetically and with resolve by French hornist Kathleen Putnam -- is so full of character that, even failing the last bit of theatrical emphasis as the Don is sent to Hell, you'll feel the one-third of an opera presented here is fully realized by these players, who specialize in performances of harmonie scores of opera that portray the drama and action portrayed by the music. Their specialty work sets them apart from other bands that perform opera harmonice more as concert music.
MGD's recording, in natural super audio sound, sets this apart from competing recordings. Compared to the excellent digital sound Tudor gave the Zurich Wind Quintet, the soundstage has greater depth and the players are more individually identified in the newer reocording. The notes are good; three pages of information on the transcription and the players, plus a history lesson about Triebensee and his father, who taught him the harmonie art and was a member of a famous harmonie band.
The package includes MGD's usually discussion of their sound process (no fake noises allowed; they record the natural concert in a hall of their choosing) and norwa on hoq ro set up your home steroe for best effect. Opera Senza's repertory includes other Mozart operas -- Idomeneo, Figaro, Cosi fan tutte and Magic Flute -- Beethoven's Fidelio and Smetana's Bartered Bride. There are no recordings of the Smetana, which would be another fine addition to the harmoniemusik repertoire. This recording is outstanding and should be heard by anyone that likes harmoniemusik or Triebensee's harmonie arrangement of the opera.