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MOZART: Don Giovanni

London Classical Players / Roger Norrington

(EMI 7 54859-2; 3 CDs)

SO what shall it be today, the Prague or Vienna version? Or a traditional conflation of both? Norrington and EMI effectively give us a full performance of both versions, and, armed with your CD player programmer, you too can play at being Mozart. And you too will surely feel the heat of inspiration as Norrington cracks down on the overture - an uncompromising two in a bar, the familiar overhang in string basses curtly eliminated from the first two fatalistic chords. The sting of original sin is back in the score, the urgency of the music once again in synch with the reckless dash of the narrative (so many women, so little time). It's a black farce again, an amazing tragi-comic juggling act: Norrington, like Mozart, keeps his tempi imperative, but never breathless; orchestrally he has rediscovered the capricious and poetic alliance between instrumental and vocal lines, and the casting of lighter, fresher voices is very much in scale with the instrumental timbres.

Andreas Schmidt's mellifluous, baritonal Don is well- pitted against the coarser, weathered tones of Gregory Yurisich's Leporello; Lynne Dawson's Elvira catches enough of the febrility and all of the coloratura in 'Mi tradi', Amanda Halgrimson's Anna has the vocal reach, flexibility, and temperament (a discovery, this), while John Mark Ainsley's Ottavio is an eloquent respecter of line and embellishment. But it's Norrington's show, and in this Don's final reckoning the hot place was rarely hotter. ES

I WAS expecting a brisk pace, but even then Norrington's opening came as a jolt. The crisp, alert freshness of it all is impressive, but only when the voices enter does the human factor begin to register. Then the combination of Norrington's sharply etched rhythm and constant forward drive, the orchestra's pungent 'period' colours and a first-rate, superstar-free cast begins to work a surprising kind of magic.

This isn't a Don Giovanni to luxuriate in; it's a bracing, energetically comic and ultimately spine-tingling performance. Schmidt (Giovanni) and Yurisich (Leporello) quickly establish a quick-fire banter which seems to get better as it goes along - the graveyard scene in Act 2 is very funny, though Alistair Miles and the three 18th- century trombones lower the temperature spectacularly for Mozart's first shock-horror effect: the statue speaks]

As for the sex interest, I'm not so sure. Good as she is, Dawson's Elvira never quite sounds like a passionate woman scorned. Halgrimson's Anna scores more with me for purity of tone and fine phrasing than for expressions of paralysing grief. Even Schmidt's Don convinces more as a demonic prankster than as the great seducer. And yet the dramatic cohesion and sheer verve make this a gripping experience with plenty of arresting new angles on familiar details and events, whether you programme your player to give you the early Prague or later Vienna version. Whatever your final verdict, Don Giovanni is unlikely ever to be quite the same after this. SJ

STRAVINSKY / SZYMANOWSKI: Violin Concertos Chantal Juillet, Montreal SO / Charles Dutoit (Decca 436 837-2)

The Stravinsky sounds like it's in the wrong place at the wrong time. It doesn't sit well in this plush, roomy acoustic. Nor are these performers entirely in step with its wry, laconic character. With the melismatic high-baroque of the third movement, Chantal Juillet's sultry manner and languorous, wholly inappropriate portamenti suggest that she has already scented the golden (or is it purple?) haze of Szymanowski's First Concerto. There she can soar, sweet and true in altissimo above orchestral textures that waft and blend and open voluptuously. Dutoit sees to it that this free-flowing poem of the spheres maintains its state of perpetual ecstasy. But don't undervalue the later, less familiar Second Concerto, more of this earth, more primary in its colorations, its heart and soul in the music of Poland's Tatra mountains, but no less elaborately embroidered. ES

STRAVINSKY famously claimed that music of itself could 'express nothing', and praised Rachmaninov the pianist for his wooden demeanour on the concert platform. Do you believe him? If so, then Chantal Juillet's version of the D major Concerto is emphatically not for you. There's no schmaltz, she doesn't pull the music about or ignore dynamics or accents (she can be pretty abrasive when she wants to be), but the expressive charge is high - and to my ears it all comes from the heart of the music.

The abrasiveness is there in both Szymanowski Concertos, but again what she does feels right - on the whole. She labours a bit over parts of No 2 (the folk-element needn't be so aggressively Bartokian), but her view of the First is gripping and challenging - a dreamscape poised somewhere between aching fantasy and erotic nightmare. SJ

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