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MAGDALENA KOŽENÁ

Cole Porter

Ondrej Havelka and his Melody Makers

Recorded June 2017, Studio A, Czech Radio, Prague-Karlin

BRNOFON BRF001-2 [54:57]

 

 

 

Just One of Those Things

Always True to You in My Fashion

It's All Right with Me

My Heart Belongs to Daddy

Let's Misbehave

Love for Sale

I've Got You Under My Skin

Miss Otis Regrets

What Is This Thing Called Love?

Begin the Beguine

You´re the Top

You'd Be so Nice to Come Home To

Let's Do It

Night and Day

Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye

This was always going to be tough. For the Czech classical singer Magdalena Kožená to take on Cole Porter (and win) a lot of stylistic and verbal recalibration would have to take place. Classical forays into this kind of repertoire are famously strewn with the reputational damage of high-flying opera stars brought heavily down to earth. In her booklet notes she thanks Mary Carewe for her help – Carewe is a fine practitioner of this kind of song – and also Juraj Bartoš for his arrangements (all but one are his). But in the end the singer is alone with her voice, its training, her temperament and her feel for the idiom, for the vernacular, and for the conversational intimacies it involves.

On board she has Ondrej Havelka and his Melody Makers, a band finely attuned to music of the 20s and 30s and there are some stylish contributions from them throughout the fifteen very familiar songs. But the disparity between their accomplished familiarity and Kožená’s operatically scaled instincts are all too evident, alas. The breezy but stage-based Just One of Those Things also shows that doing too much with the voice is wrong. Too many inflexions, registral changes, and changes of colour, and you risk tension and tension is what we get. One can hear again and again how she tries hard to scale down the voice and her vibrato but it’s unevenly effective and this inconsistency only increases the problems. Her parlando approach to Always True to You in My Fashion is nice but she remains rhythmically rather stiff. Where the album really scores is in instrumental and orchestral detailing – in the sensitively string-based It's All Right with Me for instance, which does well for this moving ballad. Then there are the neat breaks in My Heart Belongs to Daddy but she sings consistently too high and that makes things sound unnatural.

Havelka clearly knows his Goldkette and Whiteman, as does the arranger, because Let’s Misbehave invokes the spirit of Bing Crosby and his Rhythm Boys, as well as alto and trumpet solos that evoke Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke – and very adroitly too. But for all their finesse it’s the singer who matters most and despite the deft arrangement of that torch song for prostitutes everywhere, Love for Sale, and a bright-and-breezy I've Got You Under My Skin, she remains hooty in Begin the Beguine and wholly unidiomatic and far too extroverted in You'd Be so Nice to Come Home To. For my taste we hear too little of pianist Miroslav Lacko, whose brief solos show an appreciation of Dick Hyman.

Everything about the disc is classy, from the notes by Kožená herself, to the splendid recorded sound. But despite her flapper dresses and bobbed hair in the photos, looking the part doesn’t mean you’re going to sound the part.

Jonathan Woolf

 


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