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Magdalena Kožená - Enchantment
Charles GOUNOD (1818-1893)

Cinq Mars: Nuit resplendissante
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Marc Minkowski
Jean-Christophe Keck
Georges BIZET (1838-1875)

Carmen: "Les tringles des sistres tintaient"
Edwige Parat; Claire Delgado-Boge
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Marc Minkowski
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Le nozze di Figaro, K.492: "Voi che sapete"
Prague Philharmonia/Michel Swierczewski
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Giulio Cesare in Egitto HWV 17: Accompagnato "Che sento? oh Dio"; Aria "Se pietà di me non senti"; Aria "Piangerò la sorte mia"; Aria "Da tempeste il legno infranto"
Jean-Philippe RAMEAU (1683-1764)

Dardanus: Air gracieux (Sans lenteur) / "L'Amour, le seul Amour"
Air (Vif) / "Allez, jeune guerrier"
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
Francesco Bartolomeo CONTI (1682-1732)

Languet anima mea: Aria: O vulnera, vita coelestis
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust Cantata, BWV 170: Aria: Vergnügte Ruh', beliebte Seelenlust
Musica Antiqua Köln/Reinhard Goebel
St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244: Aria (Alto): "Erbarme dich"
Musica Florea/Marek Stryncl
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Il consiglio "Tra le fiamme", Cantata HWV 170: Aria "Voli per l'aria"/Recitativo; Aria "Tra le fiamme"-Da capo/A
Juan-Manuel Quintana
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski,
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Cantata No.30 "Freue dich, erlöste Schar", BWV 30: 5. Aria: Kommt, ihr angefocht'nen Sünder
Vojtech Ron; Joseph Kolinski; Musica Florea
Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703)

Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hätte Lamento
Musica Antiqua Köln/Reinhard Goebel
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)

Was mir behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd, Cantata BWV 208: Aria: Schafe können sicher weiden; Cantata No.30 "Freue dich, erlöste Schar", BWV 30: 5. Aria: Kommt, ihr angefocht'nen Sünder
Musica Florea/Marek Stryncl
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Dixit Dominus, HWV 232: De torrente in via bibet
Annick Massis
Chorus Of Les Musiciens Du Louvre/Sébastian Rouland
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
Josef MYSLIVECEK (1737-1781)

L'Olimpiade: Che non mi disse
Prague Philharmonia/Michel Swierczewski
Christoph Willibald von GLUCK (1714-1787)

Paride ed Elena: Quegli occhi belli / Misero! Ahimè!
Susan Gritton; Carolyn Sampson
Gabrieli Players/Paul McCreesh
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

La clemenza di Tito, K.621: "Deh per questo istante solo"
Scottish Chamber Orchestra/Charles Mackerras
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)

Cléopatre: J'ai versé le poison
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Marc Minkowski, Jean-Christophe Keck
Ottorino RESPIGHI (1879-1936)

Il tramonto
Henschel Quartett
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Satires (Pictures of the Past). 5 Romances for Soprano and Piano, Op. 109: Descendants
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)

A Charm of Lullabies, Op.41: The Highland Bales
Malcolm Martineau (piano)
Leoš JANÁČEK (1854-1928)

Moravská lidová poesie v písních (Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs): Komu kytka (Who Is the Posy For?); Obrázek milého (A Lover’s Picture); Pérecko (Little Posy); Stálost (Constancy); Láska (Love); Loucení (Parting); Konícky milého (My Lover’s Horses)
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841-1904)

Dobrú noc, má mila (Good night, my darling)
Graham Johnson (piano)
V náradním tónu (In Folk Tone); V národním tónu (In a National Mood) Op.73: Zalo dievca (A Girl Mowed a Meadow)
Ludovít Marcinger (piano)
Magdalena Kozená (mezzo)
rec. dates and locations not supplied
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 615-3 [65:51 + 76:56]

 

Young Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená is one of the latest “finds” in the golden voice competition that constantly thrives in the classical music industry. From her earliest recording — her first solo disc was a Czech-only release of Bach arias, later released internationally by DG [review] — it was clear that this woman could sing. Curiously, the first Bach disc was a bit of a risk, but it shows off her voice in an excellent selection of arias from Bach’s cantatas and passions. Kožená was then “discovered” by several conductors, including Marc Minkowski and John Eliot Gardiner, and began performing on stages in Western Europe and around the world.

With a discography of more than twenty recordings, and with the kind of blue eyes that work well in glossy magazines, DG has tried to brand her as a new star. She has changed her look over the past few years, going from the lanky teenager-type image on the cover of the Handel Italian Cantatas recording she make with Marc Minkowski (who exactly approved that picture?) to the cunning vixen look on her Love Songs album, retreating to the Jodie Foster-ish seriousness of Lamento, an album of baroque arias.

With all this coming and going between her image and her repertoire, Kožená gives the impression of someone who either doesn’t know what exactly she wants to do, or of someone who is being handled adroitly by her manager and record label. This is unfortunate, because if one had never seen her face or her album covers and only heard her voice, one could not avoid being under her spell. This compilation album, Enchantment, presents a selection of the varied repertoire that Kožená has been performing in her eight-year recording career. From Bach to Britten, from Mozart to Massenet, without forgetting Handel, Rameau and, of course, Janacek and Dvořák, Kožená has recorded an astounding variety of music.

She certainly has a predilection for the baroque and for French music. My first exposure to Kožená’s singing was her Bach; her performance of Bach’s cantata BWV 199, under John Eliot Gardiner, is heart-rending. That work is not on this album, but you can get a taste of her passion for Bach in her performance of Erbarme Dich, one of the most moving arias from the St. Matthew Passion, where she uses the full range of her voice and emotion to tell a tearful story. Her rendition of Handel’s Se Pieta di me non senti, from Giulio Cesare, is another example of her fine voice and her ability to use it to the maximum. While she uses a tad too much vibrato in this latter song, it doesn’t annoy, as is often the case with lyric singers in the baroque idiom. De torrente in via bibet, from Handel’s Dixit Dominus is a fine example of a smaller scale work, where her vibrato is in restraint, and where her voice melds with the other soloist in a beautifully moving duet.

While this set contains a majority of baroque music, Kožená’s interest in French music is apparent, with some excellent songs by Massenet (J'ai versé le poison from Cléopatre shows her in a more forceful voice) and Rameau (the two short, truculent airs from Dardanus). She takes a bit of a world tour with a moving performance of Respighi’s Il Tramonto, sung with a string quartet, and a Britten lullaby, before returning to her native tongue with seven love songs by Janacek.

Throughout this set, which is more of a sampler than a coherent compilation, one is astounded by Kožená’s range and the sheer beauty of her voice. Fans of this singer may not want to run out and purchase, for example, Giulio Caesare or Dardanus just for Kožená’s contributions (which are minimal in each of these works); however, those unfamiliar with these great works would certainly discover other great singers, such as John-Mark Ainsley, Véronique Gens and Laurent Naouri in the latter and Anne-Sofie von Otter in the former. What Enchantment shows is that Kožená can be both a striking soloist, such as in her Janacek and Bach, but also an excellent team player, as evidenced by her stellar performances in the Handel and Rameau recordings.

If this is your first exposure to this voice, you may want to discover more of Kožená’s work in her solo albums; the ones designed to highlight her and her alone: there are several of them. But especially if you are a fan of baroque music, go for some of the operas she has contributed to, or her Bach cantatas or St. Matthew Passion.

One note: classical record companies just don’t get it. In addition to turning Kožená into a Barbie doll, they toss a “bonus” video clip of Kožená singing a Bach aria on this set. This video is stupid, poorly lip synced, and did I say stupid? They should really leave this kind of stuff to popular artists, or at least film their performers live, instead of presenting such dreck as this video … which I won’t even bother to describe, since it is so crass.

To sum up, this is an excellent collection of works that show off the talents of this amazing young singer. Ignore the glossy photos and listen to the music; poor Magdalena would be better off in the long run if she sold her voice and not her pretty eyes and blond hair. After all, people really don’t buy such albums for their cover pictures; well, I hope not. But in this case, the music is every bit as beautiful as the singer.

Kirk McElhearn

 



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