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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.