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 Recording of the Week  Teodor Currentzis conducts Mozart's Don Giovanni

It’s that time of year when the Presto editorial team start thinking about ‘the ones that got away’ – recordings of 2016 that somehow slipped under the radar, or which received lots of office air-time without getting attention in a newsletter or interview. More on that next week, when we’ll each take a turn in telling you about our individual unsung heroes of the past year, but today I want to give a slightly belated solo spot to the one recording in our Top Ten which hasn’t featured as a Disc of the Week: Teodor Currentzis’s scorching Don Giovanni with MusicAeterna, released on Sony last month.

Teodor Currentzis
Teodor Currentzis

It’s the final instalment in the Russian-Greek firebrand’s trilogy of the Mozart/Da Ponte operas, which began in 2013, and by our reckoning the best of the lot by a country mile: the previous two recordings rather divided opinion at Presto Towers (personally I’ve loved the lot - some of you may recall that Così fan tutte was my ‘Disc That Got Away’ in 2014), but the raw energy and often abrasive style which have become hallmarks of the series pay thrilling dividends in what I always hear as the most radical of the three operas, and seem to embody the subversive life-force of Mozart’s eternally compelling anti-hero himself.

As with the other two recordings in the series (available now digitally, and scheduled for re-release on CD in January), the cast itself isn’t particularly starry (at least in comparison with my other personal benchmark recordings of the work, or with Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s contemporary Mozart opera series on Deutsche Grammophon). Karina Gauvin (the relatively restrained but heart-breaking Donna Elvira) and Kenneth Tarver (one of the most elegantly and assertively sung Ottavios I’ve ever heard on disc) are probably the biggest ‘names’ here, but Currentzis’s Mozart has never been about stand-out individual performances: the focus is unremittingly on the bigger picture, and in this ensemble-driven score the cumulative effect is often little short of shattering. (The first time we listened to the recording together at Presto we had to collectively down tools for a few minutes afterwards, such is the power of the terrifying penultimate scene which sees Giovanni dragged to hell by a chorus of demons – in Currentzis’s hands, the strings flicker and swirl with such relentless vehemence that I half-expected a whiff of brimstone to pervade the office).

What makes this a recording to conjure with, for me, is the way Currentzis harnesses the score’s manic energy and nails the crucial balance between absolute technical precision and a sense of underlying recklessness that could upset the apple-cart at any moment: rather like Giovanni himself, he seems to be constantly pushing the boundaries of what’s physically possible, and beneath the surface glitter there’s an ever-present threat of chaos come again. The party scene in the Act One finale is a case in point: as you hear every detail of the conflicting dances which Mozart sets up against one another, complete with whooping horns and slightly ill-tuned strings, it becomes increasingly apparent that this is a night out that’s about to spiral drastically out of control. The work’s most horrifying moments register with frightening intensity: the knife-thrust which fells the Commendatore in the opening scene is brutally audible, and Anna’s narration of the attempted rape by Giovanni (sung with unflinching commitment by Greek soprano Myrtò Papatanasiu) is so genuinely uncomfortable to listen to that it almost merits a trigger-warning. But then if you want your Mozart (or, in my experience, anything else) comfortable, Currentzis is most definitely not your man; if you’re open to exploring its dark underbelly, then I strongly urge you give this a go. If you’re anything like me, you’ll hear little miracles in this sublime score that you’ve never noticed before, and return to it time and again with something approaching obsession (Note to colleagues: I publicly promise to stop playing this recording on loop now. At least until the end of the year.)

Mozart: Don Giovanni, K527

Dimitris Tiliakos (Don Giovanni), Vito Priante (Leporello), Myrtò Papatanasiu (Donna Anna), Kenneth Tarver (Don Ottavio), Karina Gauvin (Donna Elvira), Guido Loconsolo (Masetto), Christina Gansch (Zerlina), Mika Kares (Il Commendatore), MusicAeterna & MusicAeterna Choir, Teodor Currentzis

Available Format: CD

Mozart: Le nozze di Figaro, K492 (scheduled for CD re-release on 20 January 2017)

Fanie Antonelou (Susanna), Christian van Horn (Figaro), Simone Kermes (Countess), Andrei Bondarenko (Count), Mary-Ellen Nesi (Cherubino), Maria Forsstrom (Marcellina), Nikolai Loskutkin (Bartolo), Krystian Adam (Don Basilio), James Elliott (Don Curzio), Garry Agadzhanian (Antonio), Natalya Kirillova (Barbarina) MusicAeterna, Teodor Currentzis

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC

Mozart: Così fan tutte, K588 (scheduled for CD re-release on 20 January 2017)

Simone Kermes (Fiordiligi), Malena Ernman (Dorabella), Anna Kasyan (Despina), Kenneth Tarver (Ferrando), Christopher Maltman (Guglielmo), Konstantin Wolff (Don Alfonso) MusicAeterna, Teodor Currentzis

Available Formats: CD, MP3, CD Quality FLAC, Hi-Res FLAC, Hi-Res+ FLAC