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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Tito Manlio, RV 783: Sonno, se pur sei sonno [2:54]
Juditha Triumphans Devicta Holoferens Barbarie RV 644: Armatae face et anguibus [3:22]
La Verita in Cimento RV 739: Solo quella guancia bella [2:58]; Cara sorte di chi nata [4:26]
Farnace RV RV 711: Gelido in ogni vena [9:23]; Forse, o caro, in questi accenti [7:22]
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L’Olimpiade RV 725: Mentre dormi Amor fomenti [ 7:56]

Magdalena Kozena (mezzo)
Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
rec. Oct 2008, Toblach/Dobbiaco, Kulturzentrum Grand Hotel.
ARCHIV 4778096 [77:19] 

 

Experience Classicsonline


More than a decade ago in a music shop that no longer exists - an alarming number have subsequently suffered the same fate - I was transfixed by a recording being played. One is never sure if this practice is a marketing exercise or self-indulgence on the part of the sales person; in this instance it was probably both. On inquiry the young man was rather effusive, sure that he had inadvertently discovered a future force to be reckoned with. Only in retrospect could he know how visionary his remarks had been.
 

I enthusiastically purchased the recording: Bach Arias, Archive 457 367-2 by a singer then not well known outside her own country. During the intervening years the Czech mezzo-soprano, Magdalena Kozena has become a star of monumental proportions, universally admired and accoladed within her genre. Kozena’s prolific recording activities now account for a discography that includes thirty-four releases. 

Born in 1973 in Brno, Kozena’s original goal was to be a pianist but a broken hand when she was six caused her diversion to singing. She studied at the Brno Conservatorium and College of Performing Arts in Bratislava, graduating in 1995. That same year she was a prize winner at the International Mozart Competition. From 1996-97 Kozena was a member of the Vienna Volksoper. In 2003 she was awarded the title of Chevalier de I’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French Government. Formerly married to the French baritone Vincent le Texier she is now partnered with Sir Simon Rattle. 

The review disc is an all-Vivaldi programme with the Venice Baroque Orchestra. Vivaldi is recorded as taking credit for ninety-four operas, however the liner notes indicate fewer than thirty survive intact today. Another source suggests only nineteen are extant. Much of Vivaldi’s vocal work is of dazzling virtuosic difficulty; imported from his orchestral works, it manifests a fearsome disregard for the human weakness of singers. While Kozena acknowledges the challenges in the pyrotechnics of Vivaldi, in this recording they appear executed with consummate ease. 

She spent many hours in choosing of items for the current programmer, a task made easier by their relative lack of familiarity. There were no old favourites that had to be included - no Vivaldi ‘hits.’ However her clear favourite among them is Gelido in ogni vena from Farnace. In this masterpiece Vivaldi borrowed the chilling music from the opening movement of Winter from the Four Seasons to convey the emotions of a father, who has just discovered he has unknowingly given the command for his own son’s execution. 

With each new recording by Kozena it is not a matter of whether the performance is outstanding or not, but rather if the programme has specific appeal for the listener. Such is the beauty of what this singer achieves that in reality almost any selection, despite lack of familiarity or predisposition, can be transformed into a ‘favourite.’ Even if one had never heard a Vivaldi aria, the beguiling and enchanting power of her singing can quickly transform the fifteen presented here into favoured music. It seems impossible to nominate superlatives that have not already been employed to describe her proficiency. In few previous instances has the adage ‘one listen is worth a thousand words’ had more relevance. 

The Venice Baroque Orchestra performs like a well-framed picture: the framing provides integrity and embellishment to the artwork without dominating or distracting from it in any way. It is not common to experience the lute being so prominently and effectively deployed in an orchestra adhering to ‘historically informed practice’. On occasion in slow movements, the interpolation of lute, harpsichord and transverse flute provides an especially beautiful and ethereal atmosphere for the ‘artwork.’ This recording abounds with such aural delights. 

Zane Turner 




 
 


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