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Seen and Heard Concert Review



Mozart, Boccherini, C. P. E. Bach: Magdalena Kožená (mezzo); Il Giardino Armonico/Giovanni Antonini. Barbican Hall, 27.10.2006 (CC)


Magdalena Koženás recent disc of Mozart with Rattle (DG 477 627-2) is the presumed reason behind this recital, despite the differences in accompanists. Kožená sang a total of six arias (not counting the encore) in a concert that also included symphonies by Boccherini and C. P. E. Bach.


A sequence of last-minute changes meant that the poor audience had to move back and forth within the programme to keep pace with the singer – not to mention slipping over to an insert for an added recitative. On a purely musical level, the concert traced a smooth arc from a rather ragged opening to a sensational ending.

Mozart’s overture to Mitridate is hardly aired every day, so it was good to hear it in this bright and breezy performance, even if the first chord was not together and the horns insisted on a rasping sforzando on every note. Of course, everyone came to hear Kožená. Her first offering, Non piů di fiori’ (from La Clemenza di Tito) displayed a surprisingly quick vibrato. A sure dramatic sense saw her through, though – and the projection of her lower register is a joy to hear.

Kožená’s impetuous, breathless handling of ‘Non so piů’ (Figaro) was astonishing, not only in its projection of impulsiveness but also in the fact that every single word was audible. This respect for the text made the recitative before ‘Deh vieni, non tardar’ absolutely magical, while in the aria it became clear that Kožená actually enjoys the sheer sound of the words she sings.

It came as someting of a surprise that Kožená left the stage after every single aria, no matter how short that aria was. It chopped up the evening unnecessarily.

Boccherini’s Symphony in D minor, subtitled, ‘La casa del diavolo’, closed the first half. Now, I am no fan of Boccherini’s music at the best of times, but stick him next to Mozart and he stands little chance. The orchestra begged to differ, though, and gave its all, including ghostly pianissimi (excellently balanced) and ultra-disciplined crescendi and diminuendi. Strangely, the first attack was not together again.

‘Per pietŕ’ from Cosě began the second half. The delicacy was astounding, and Kožená negotiated the large intervals faultlessly. Some superb horn playing here (fabulous lip trills). It was C. P E. Bach that provided the purely orchestral contribution to te later stages of the concert – the  Symphony in F, W183/3. C. P. E. Bach’s unfailing invention always grabs the imagination and here it inspired Il Giardino Armonico to some fine, virtuoso playing.

The final two items on the scheduled  listing were both from La clemenza. Kožená’s legato in ‘Deh per questo’ was faultless, but it was in the infamous ‘Parto, parto’ that she truly shone. Stunning in the later sections, it was impossible not to admire her true identification with the music and text. ‘In uomini, in soldati’ from Cosě provided a satisfying encore.


Colin Clarke




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