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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756–1791)
La clemenza di Tito (1791)
Rainer Trost (tenor) – Tito Vespasiano; Magdalena Kožená (mezzo) – Sesto; Hillevi Martinpelto (soprano) – Vitellia; Lisa Milne (soprano) – Servilia; Christine Rice (mezzo) – Annio; John Relyea (bass) – Publio
Scottish Chamber Orchestra Chorus
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Sir Charles Mackerras
rec. Usher Hall, Edinburgh, August 2005
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 00289 477 5792 [62:17 + 65:14]

Mozart was already at work with Die Zauberflöte when he was contracted to write an opera seria, based on and old Metastasio libretto, La clemenza di Tito. Since he was offered a substantial sum of money he couldn’t turn down the project and he finished the opera in seventeen days; impressive indeed, considering that it comprises an overture and 26 musical numbers. The recitatives, of which there are many, were however composed by someone else, presumably his pupil Süssmayr, who also completed his Requiem a few months later. After his mature masterpieces this opera seria is, in a way, a step backwards. However it is so filled with lovely music that it would be a shame not to perform it and today it is heard and seen not infrequently. There have also been a number of recordings, Hogwood, Harnoncourt, Gardiner, Colin Davis and back in the 1960s István Kertesz [review]. The one that has for long been my personal favourite is the DG recording by Karl Böhm with Peter Schreier, Teresa Berganza and Julia Varady in leading roles. Now comes a brand new DG recording, set down in August 2005 during preparations for a concert performance at the Edinburgh Festival. Presiding over the whole project is Sir Charles Mackerras, who turned eighty a couple of months later, but there are no signs of an octogenarian at work. On the contrary this is fresh and youthful music-making with sprung rhythms and a light touch. Böhm in contrast feels slightly heavy-handed although his longstanding familiarity with Mozart’s work still lends his reading authenticity. A great asset on this new recording is the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, playing with precision and warmth, not always a self-evident combination. There is an airiness and transparency that brings out Mozart’s exquisite orchestration. The important woodwind soloists are excellent, not least the important clarinet and basset horn solos expertly done. The affiliated chorus are splendid too – there is no mention of the number of singers but they are a homogenous body of voices, rhythmically alive. Sir Charles paces the music expertly, neither rushing it unduly nor lingering over some of the admittedly beautiful arias that can tend to cloy in less sensitive hands. The secco recitatives are accompanied by fortepiano and cello and as always they sound overlong, less the fault of the musicians than the music itself. Since they are separately banded it’s easy to skip them but one always loses something of the continuity.

The cast is a strong one, maybe lacking something in personality as compared to the Böhm cast but taken as a whole both singer teams are winners. Magdalena Kožená’s first Mozart role has been eagerly awaited and she doesn’t disappoint as Sesto. Her big set-piece is, of course, the aria Parto, ma tu, ben mio (CD1 track 19) with the clarinet solo, played at the premiere by Anton Stadler, for whom Mozart wrote the clarinet concerto just weeks later. I happen to have quite a number of recordings of this specific aria with most of the great latter day (and some not so latter) mezzo-sopranos. Kožená is definitely among the top contenders. Her voice is smooth and beautiful and she executes the difficult runs with ease. A little later in the first act she shows the full scope of her dramatic expressiveness in the accompanied recitative just before the quintet that ends the act, Oh, Dei, che smania. In the second act her rondo Deh, per questo istante solo (CD2 track 13) is equally fine. Vitellia is sung by Hillevi Martinpelto, who has a longstanding reputation as a leading Mozartean, even though she today also sings more dramatic repertoire. This spring she will be Leonora in Verdi’s Il trovatore in Stockholm. Her first recitative is a bit fluttery and insecure but she soon recovers and in the duet with Sesto, Come ti piace imponi (CD1 track 3) the voices blend well and her first act aria, Deh, se piacer mi vuoi (CD1 track 5) shows her technically perfect and with beautiful tone. Her real set-piece, the second act rondo Non più di fiori vaghe catene (CD2 track 19), the one with the basset horn obbligato, is heartfelt, but the aria requires an enormous range of voice and here the lowest notes are a bit sketchy. But this is a worthy reading of the part. As Tito, Rainer Trost surprises with more heft than I had expected and his voice may be growing in the same direction as Gösta Winbergh’s did; from being a light lyrical Mozartean voice to the big dramatic Wagner roles he sang with such conviction. Trost’s smooth flexible voice has gained in volume but lost something of its former mellifluousness. He sometimes sounds strained in the more dramatic moments and he is a bit taxed by the runs in his last act aria Se all’impero, amici Dei. Nevertheless he is a good actor with the voice and does much with the text. Still he can’t quite erase memories of Peter Schreier in the Böhm set.

Of the other singers John Relyea is a darkly imposing Publio, singing with great authority, though not wholly free from wobble. Christine Rice, the other mezzo-soprano, in the other trouser role as Annio, impresses greatly. Lisa Milne, although born in Aberdeen and having studied in Glasgow, must still be able to feel Edinburgh her home ground. She turns in a fine Servilia, not always ideally steady, but charming in the little second act aria S’altro che lacrime.

DG offer a premium class recording with ideal balance between pit and stage and we get both synopses and sung texts in four languages. The hero of the performance is undoubtedly Sir Charles and he is well served by his leading singers, especially Kožená and Martinpelto. This recording may not outdo the competition completely but it belongs up there among the best and can be confidently recommended.

Göran Forsling



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