Magdalena Kožená - Lettere Amorose
Filippo VITALI (c.1599 – 1653)
1. O bel lumi (Musiche a una e due voci, Libro secondo, 1618) [2:56]
Sigismondo d’INDIA (c.1582 – before 19 April 1629)
2. Cruda Amarilli (Primo libro di musiche da cantar solo, 1609) [2:56]
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567 – 1643)
3. Si dolce é il tormento (Quarto scherzo delle ariose vaghezze, 1624) [3:30]
Giulio CACCINI (1551 – 1618)
4. Odi, Euterpe, ‘l dolce canto (Le nuove musiche, 1601-02) [3:28]
Luis De BRIÇEÑO (fl. early 17th century)
5. Caravanda Ciacona [1:41]*
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/5 – 1665)
6. Canzonetta spirituale sopra alla nanna: Hor ch’e tempo di dormire (Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, Libro secondo, 1638) [8:42]
Gaspar SANZ (mid 17th – early 18th century)
7. Canarios (Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra española, 1674) [3:15]*
Sigismondo d’INDIA
8. Ma che? Squallido e oscuro(Primo libro di musiche da cantar solo, 1609) [2:44]
Biagio MARINI (1594 – 1663)
9. Con le stele in ciel (Scherzi e canzonette Op. 5, 1622) [4:22]
Girolamo KAPSBERGER (c.1580 – 1651)
10. Felici g’animi (Libro quarto di villanelle, 1623) [2:57]
Giovanni De MACQUE (1548/50 – 1614)
11. Capriccio stravagante [1:43]*
Girolamo KAPSBERGER
12. Aurilla mia, quando m’accese (Libro secondo di villanelle, 1619) [3:17]
Sigismondo d’INDIA
13. Torn ail sereno Zefiro (Quinto libro di musiche da cantar solo, 1623) [2:44]
Giovanni Paolo FOSCARINI (fl. 1629 – 1647)
14. Ciacona (Primo libro di musiche da cantar solo, 1609) [1:48]*
Barbara STROZZI (1619 – 1677)
15. L’Eraclito amoroso: Udite amanti (Cantate, arietta e duetti, Op. 2, 1651) [7:56]
Lucas Ruiz de RIBAYAZ (*before 1650)
16. Espagnoletta (Luz y norte musical para caminar, 1677) [2:54]*
Tarquinio MERULA
17. Folle è ben chi si crede (Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, Libro secondo, 1638) [3:54]
Magdalena Kožená (mezzo)
Private Musicke/Pierre Pitzl
rec. Nikolaisaal, Potsdam, September-October 2009
Sung texts in Italian with French, German and English translations enclosed
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8764 [61:33]

It happens that a disc is so completely enchanting that one almost boils over with joy. This is one of those. And the reason for the joy is not spectacular orchestral sonorities and/or dramatic vocal gestures. It’s just that the songs and the performance of them are so united. There is no discernable borderline between the music and the interpretation. The voice, the instruments and the music coalesce, and it seems that they couldn’t exist independent of each other. They could, they do, but the effect on at least this listener was so overwhelming that it felt like being present at a revivalist meeting.

Strong words, I know, but there are reasons. Magdalena Kožená is, at a time when the world is blessed with an enormous range of great mezzo-sopranos, one of the fixed stars during the last decade and what is so special about her is her total identification with whatever she sings. She has a marvellous voice but she never uses it for superficial vocal acrobatics; she works in the service of the music. On this disc there isn’t a note that isn’t weighed on a pair of gold scales and that’s what so endears her to me. Technical matters are unimportant – though there is a lot of hard labour behind the final product – and the music comes to the fore.

The music, yes. A quick browse through the header tells the reader that these are songs from the 17th century, and I suppose that for those who are not generally interested in ‘ancient music’ most of the composers’ names are unfamiliar; Monteverdi possibly excepted. But this in no way rules the music out. I am fully aware of the fact that there are a lot of lovers of ‘art music’, which seems to be a better term than ‘classical music’, for whom the history of music starts with Bach and the other late baroque masters. I once nurtured that opinion myself but providence helped me by letting a disc with renaissance and early baroque music slip into a bunch of LPs I ordered from Concert Hall –Alfred Deller was one of the artists – and then I suddenly found that here was a new field of music with marvellous songs and instrumental pieces.

This disc should be a similar introduction to many. Magdalena Kožená used to sing music from this period while she studied at the conservatory in her native Brno, so this disc is in a way a return to the roots. At the time when the music was new there were no strict borderlines between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ songs. Nor were they necessarily intended for concerts in the modern sense of the word. People gathered and sang to each other or together - a kind of 17th century jam session. There are several great names of the period represented. Monteverdi was no doubt the greatest and has become the symbol of the early opera, even though he wasn’t quite the first one to write operas. Caccini wrote at least three operas several years before Monteverdi and listening to the dramatic verve in the song to Euterpe (tr. 4) it’s easy to understand that he was a man of the theatre. Monteverdi’s Si dolce è il tormento (tr. 3) also has operatic feeling. But all the music here is on a very high level of invention and beauty and possibly the greatest find for many newcomers to this repertoire may be Sigismondo d’India. He is certainly on a par with Monteverdi and maybe even more harmonically daring and original. The elegiac Cruda Amarilli (tr. 2) is a masterpiece and so is his Tasso setting Ma che? Squallido e oscuro (tr. 8). But Kapsberger is also a fascinating composer. As his name reveals he was of German descent but worked in Rome. Merula shouldn’t be overlooked and his almost nine minutes long Canzonetta (tr. 6) is captivating, a mix of lullaby and elegy.

It must also be pointed out that there were several female composers active during the 17th century, Caccini’s daughter Francesca for example – though not represented here – and the remarkable Barbara Strozzi. Also a singer she was a prolific producer of secular songs, many of which she also wrote the lyrics for. L’Eraclito amoroso is a truly passionate song.

Magdalena Kožená and Private Musicke worked together with this repertoire at a number of concerts before they went into the studio to set down what had been thoroughly discussed and tried out. They also manage to convey their love for the music. The eight musicians play on plucked and bowed string instruments plus percussion. Besides the songs they also have some instrumental numbers on their own. I must mention, too, that Ms Kožená hasn’t adopted the commonly used style of historical interpreters with little or no vibrato and a restrained approach. Hers are readings filled to the brim with feeling and passion.

Seasoned lovers of the music of this period and lovers of the singer will need no encouragement to purchase this disc. Those who for some reason still aren’t convinced are advised to go to Youtube to get a taster. It certainly whets the appetite.

Göran Forsling

Kožená and Private Musicke convey their love for this music in readings filled to the brim with feeling and passion.