Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643)
1. Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti (1632) [6:52]
Anna Prohaska (soprano)
2. Lamento della ninfa (1638) [8:01]
Jakob Pilgram (bass)
Michael Feyfar (tenor)
Luca Titoto (bass)
3. Quel sguardo sdegnosetto (3.52) [3:52]
Marco UCCELLINI (1610-1680)
4. Aria quinta sopra la Bergamasca (1642) [4:58]
5. Disprezzata Regina! (L’incoronazione di Poppea) (1642/43) [5:00]
6. Con che soavitą (1619) [5:21]
Tarquinio MERULA (1594/95-1665)
7. Ballo detto Pollicio (1637) [2:02]
8. Addio, Roma! (L’incoronazione di Poppea) [4:16]
9. Damigella tutta bella (1607) [2:48]
Luca Titoto (bass)
David Feldman (counter-tenor)
Biagio MARINI (1594-1663)
10. Passacalio a Quattro (1655) [6:05]
11. Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda [21:14]
12. Pur ti miro (L’incoronazione di Poppea) [5:15]
Magdalena Koženį (mezzo)
Anna Prohaska (soprano); David Feldman (counter-tenor); Jakob Pilgram (bass); Michael Feyfar (tenor); Luca Titoto (bass)
La Cetra Barockorchester Basel/Andrea Marcon (harpsichord)
rec. November 2014, Kirche St. German von Auxerre, Seewen, Switzerland
Texts and English translations provided
ARCHIV PRODUKTION 479 4595 [77.05]

Magdalena Koženį signed up with Deutsche Grammophon in 1999. The label released her album Bach - Arias the following year on Archiv Produktion. Sixteen years later and still on Archiv Produktion this, the Czech mezzo-soprano’s new release, is a survey of early Italian Baroque vocal works - mainly Monteverdi.

A singer with a firm background as an early music specialist Koženį has demonstrated she can also move with ease and expertise to the Romantic era. There have been remarkable albums including French Opera Arias (2010) under Marc Minkowski and Love and Longing (2012) which includes stunning accounts of Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder conducted by Sir Simon Rattle. Both are on Deutsche Grammophon.

In this collection Koženį has selected seven Monteverdi opera arias and madrigals. Add to these three reasonably attractive instrumental works, one each from contemporaries of the Cremona master: Marco Uccellini, Tarquinio Merula and Biagio Marini. In the booklet Koženį explains how Monteverdi concentrates on communicating the meaning of the words rather than striving for sheer beauty of the voice or coloratura display.

Especially attractive is the madrigal Lamento della ninfa with Koženį accompanied by a male chorus of Jakob Pilgram (bass), Michael Feyfar (tenor) and Luca Titoto (bass). As the nymph abandoned by her lover, Koženį is in quite ravishing form demonstrating her renowned creamy timbre. From the opera L’incoronazione di Poppea in the aria Disprezzata Regina! Koženį revels in the emotions of the role of tormented Empress Ottavia cheated by her husband the Roman Emperor Nerone. Also from Poppea in the aria Addio, Roma! Ottavia vents her despair at being sent into exile. A tender love-song, the madrigal Con che soavitą features some glorious reflective singing with a strong undertow of regret.

In the short but delightful madrigal Damigella tutta bella Koženį is joined by David Feldman (counter-tenor) and Luca Titoto in an impressive and uplifting display of divergent voices. Lasting over twenty-one minutes the operatic scena Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda sees Koženį, at the suggestion of Andrea Marcon, taking all three parts: Tancredi, Clorinda and narrator. I’m not sure I prefer this single performer approach nevertheless with an artist as talented as this I can understand Marcon’s thinking. With steadfast concentration Koženį excels in this demanding score displaying a range of often complex emotional states. Her tuning, phrasing and projection is splendidly maintained. Soprano Anna Prohaska joins Koženį in Pur ti miro the well known duet for Nerone and Poppea from L’incoronazione. Sensitive and sensual, the duo communicates the text with alluring indeed aching beauty.

Period instrument ensemble La Cetra Barockorchester Basel is thirteen strong and is directed from the harpsichord by early music specialist Andrea Marcon. With compete assurance they deliver fresh and vibrant playing totally in accord with the needs of Koženį and her partners. The sound quality is entirely satisfying. The booklet with its extremely feminine presentational looks contains a good standard essay and pleasing texts with English translations.

It is hard to fault this marvellous recording featuring Koženį at the peak of her powers. I can see this album having a broad appeal, speaking to those both familiar and new to Monteverdi.

Michael Cookson

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