Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito

COMPOSERS: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mozart
WORKS: La Clemenza di Tito
PERFORMER: Mark Padmore, Alexandrina Pendatchanska, Bernarda Fink, Marie-Claude Chappuis, Shunhai Im, Sergio Foresti; RIAS Kammerchor; Freiburg Baroque Orchestra/René Jacobs
CATALOGUE NO: HMC 901923-24
This new Clemenza di Tito comes hard on the heels of a fine account by Charles Mackerras (reviewed in April). It differs from that DG recording – and, indeed, from virtually all its predecessors – in presenting all the secco recitatives uncut. That in itself isn’t necessarily a recommendation, since those portions of the score are hack work undertaken in all probability by Mozart’s pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr; but René Jacobs feels passionately that to omit a single word of the Metastasian text is tantamount to cultural vandalism. Certainly, Jacobs makes a strong case for the recitatives, improving them in places (and even adding an accompaniment for strings at the climactic moments of the Second Act), and performing them with maximum dramatic intensity. This is altogether a high-voltage performance, greatly helped by the vivid characterisation of Alexandrina Pendatchanska and Bernarda Fink in the central roles of Vitella and Sextus. As Titus, Mark Padmore is in fine voice, too, and a distinct improvement over the rather strained Rainer Trost for Mackerras.

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René Jacobs is a conductor of extremes, and there are some who may find his frequent gear-changes hard to take; but as a dramatic experience his performance is undeniably impressive. In the last resort, my allegiance remains with the more straightforward but still vivid account by Nikolaus Harnoncourt, which has an unsurpassed Vitellia in Lucia Popp, and fine contributions from Philip Langridge and Ann Murray. But it’s a close-run thing, and I shall be returning to Jacobs’s version of this still underrated masterpiece often. Misha Donat