Time to think again

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The Independent Culture
Mozart: La Clemenza di Tito

Soloists, Academy of Ancient Music and Chorus / Hogwood

(L'Oiseau-Lyre 444 131-2; two CDs)

Too many words, too few notes? Would even the Emperor have conceded that? The decline and subsequent return to favour of Mozart's last opera begs the question. For sure, much of La Clemenza's drama is played out in plain-speaking recitative, reams of it - on this occasion all of it, tirelessly punctuated by the ripple and exclamation of a late 18th-century piano.

But where the energy, vitality and humanity of Mozart's music is regenerative, the poetry of Pietro Metastasio remains set in the aspic of its time. It is quite simply breathtaking how the whole experience of La Clemenza is suddenly elevated with Sextus's first big aria "Parto, parto" some three-quarters of the way through Act 1. Plenty of notes there, and great notes. Cecilia Bartoli sings them with an almost breathless intensity, shadowing the obbligato basset clarinet with wonderful sensitivity to the half-lit echo effects and real fire in the coloratura (despite her inclination to aspirate the runs).

Della Jones goes at Vitellia with bags of temperament and much (too much?) thrusting of the chest voice, Barbara Bonney (Servilia) and Diana Montague (Annio) are sympathetic in love, and Uwe Heilmann is a sturdy, and gracious, Tito. Christopher Hogwood witholds nothing of the score's muscularity and splendour: when Mozart brings on the trumpets and drums, the glory that is ancient Rome is yours too.

And just when you're thinking, this isn't the best of Mozart, he'll pull off something like the disguised modulation from Vitellia's stunning rondo "Non piu di fiori" into the final scene. And you'll think again.