Magdalena Kožená is currently
touring with pretty much this same programme, giving recitals
in the biggest halls – the Barbican in London for instance not
the Wigmore Hall, which she could doubtless sell out six or seven
times over. It’s a measure of her international esteem that she
can do so, especially with things such as Novák’s Op.8 Pohádka
Srdce and Eben’s Pisně
k Loutně which are very much
not expected fare, and therefore all the more to be valued – both
in recital and, as here, on disc.
in 2000 she released an all-Czech disc for DG called Love Songs
which included works by Dvořák – his Love Songs op.83
- and folk songs by Janáček and Martinů. This latest
entrant if anything both expands and deepens the immersion in
Bohemian and – given her Brno birthplace – Moravian
music. Once again the repertoire will prove enticing for those
whose tastes run beyond the mainstream.
starts with what she admits is a specialised performance of
the unaccompanied traditional folksong Kebych bola
jahodú in which she colours, contours and shades the voice
in a myriad of ways. It’s a deliberately rougher, more ‘authentic’
sounding al fresco and spontaneous sounding affair – or at least
that, I assume, is the intent. For all one’s appreciation of
her singing though there are some observations to be made later
on. The first group of three Janáček Moravian folksongs
contains Muzikanti which has always seemed to me to be
a raucous man’s song. Never mind that though, why the ruinous
caesuri that hobble the flow of the song so self-consciously?
Both she and Malcolm Martineau manage to impede its gusto brilliantly.
Added to which the vocal scoops sound contrived and, dare one
say it, ugly. In a song such as this less is surely more – the
more you play around with it the more dead you’ll kill it. The
pick of the three Dvořák Cikánské melodie
is No.3 A les je tichy kolem kol which I prefer, as an
interpretation, to the ubiquitous Když mne stará matka.
sings three Schulhoff songs extracted from his Národni pisně
a tance Těšínska reserving a richer, thicker vibrato
for them, especially No.15 Když sem byla mamince klině.
But I part company in No.4 Sidej na vuz - a long
setting, which finds her in unsettled voice, vibrating too much
and obscuring the diction. A native Czech speaker with whom
I was listening could barely make out any of the words. It’s
a beautiful song though.
Eben songs are delightful, managing to evoke for example, in
the Herrick setting, an English lute song - Michael Freimuth
is the eloquent guitarist. Elsewhere there is a scherzo-like
and folkloric Jakž sem tě najprv poznal and
the limpid reflectiveness of the last of the six, Stratilať
sem milého. The Novák songs are rare; they’re early too,
being his Op.8. They run from being couched in melancholy late
Romanticism to the urgent nature setting of the fourth. The
five little songs end with a reflective romance, which embodies
a typically beautiful Novák melody line. The Martinů songs
are bright, vital little gems, most about a minute long. The
wan religiosity of Boží muka is especially delightfully
and splendidly conveyed, whilst No.7 Zvolenovci chlapci
strikes a rather Janáček-like pose. To add to
the brew there is an early song by the Viennese inclined Rösler
– who may be better remembered these days for his string quartets
– and a couple of the Moravian duets elegantly performed by
Kožená and Dorothea Röschmann.
summary then. Very necessary for Novák;
less so perhaps Schulhoff admirers if only because we only have
a few of the songs; valuable whetting of appetite for Rösler;
top drawer Eben cycle excellently realised; very variable Dvořák and Janáček; wish we could have had more
of the Martinů. Above all Kožená here values the
selective over the exhaustive. Some of these folkloric cycles
are extensive and it would be too much to take them on single-handed.
Wisely a modest selectivity is at work.
are text translations from Czech into English, French and German
– except the Eben songs when the composer set the original language
texts. The notes are rather skimpy as to the works concerned.
Though I’m sometimes frustrated by her singing I nevertheless
applaud wholeheartedly the way Kožená promotes her homeland’s
music in this thoughtful and imaginative way.