Mozart - Don Giovanni
Quatuor Franz Joseph
ATMA ACD2 2559
This 2-CD set gives us a fascinating example of musical transcriptions at the end of the 18th century. Montreal’s Quatuor Franz Joseph, using period instruments, specializes in works from that era, and here they perform Mozart’s wonderful 1787 opera in an almost complete - although unfortunately anonymous - transcription for string quartet published by Simrock of Bonn around 1798.
Transcriptions of popular works were extremely common, being the only way the music could be enjoyed away from the theatre or concert salon; Don Giovanni, for instance, spawned almost 600 various arrangements in the century following its premiere.
Questions arise, of course: Is it necessary to record the whole opera? Does it work? Is it boring? Well, Yes; Yes; and No. This is a genuine 18th century work of very high quality, and there would be little point in excerpting it. There is a transparency to the sound that allows all the vocal lines to be clearly heard, and as these are cleverly woven through the score there is no sense of “melody with accompaniment”. Sure, you lose the fullness of the voices and orchestra, but the richness of the part-writing belies the number of players, and, as the excellent booklet notes point out, the arrangement seems to bring out the purely musical aspect of the work without overly affecting its dramatic qualities.
And boring? - even at over 60 minutes per disc, this outstanding performance simply flies by!