Czech This Mezzo Out: Magdalena Kozena

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Czech This Mezzo Out: Magdalena Kozena

Post by Ralph » Sat Aug 20, 2005 10:13 pm

From The New York Times:

August 21, 2005
A Mezzo Who Does It Her Way

Magdalena Kozena, the Czech mezzo-soprano, has gone through all the requisite motions of a hot new vocal property: the Deutsche Grammophon contract, the Metropolitan Opera debut, the New York recital. In all of these she has shown herself to be a distinctive artistic personality. Rather than standard fare, her first recordings were of Bach arias and Czech love songs. Her recital at Zankel Hall in January 2004 was a quirky and personal program that included Martinu's "Songs on Two Pages" and Shostakovich's "Satires."

At times, she seems to be restlessly searching for new horizons, taking on, for example, the soprano role of Cleopatra in Handel's "Giulio Cesare," or essaying a disk of dramatic French arias. In her latest releases she has synthesized some of these impulses and settled into a repertory that fits her well: early music and early Classical, which allow her considerable scope while fitting the dimensions of her lyrical, crisp voice, and which showcase her in tandem with two leading period ensembles.

Her new solo album is "Lamento," from Deutsche Grammophon Archiv,, a collection of vocal cantatas by members of the Bach family, from Johann Christoph (a cousin of Johann Sebastian Bach's father, and the organist at Eisenach) to two of Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich. Although the works are not themselves related, the CD has a certain narrative flow, both chronologically and in mood: it moves from the plangent spareness of Johann Christoph Senior's "Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hätte," a setting of excerpts from the lamentations of Jeremiah written in the late 17th century, to more sprightly and more florid secular cantatas by the two Bach sons, composed a century later. The centerpieces, not surprisingly, are two works by the main Bach, Johann Sebastian. "Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust" ends with a catchy, jaunty setting of a text that seems to reject life; it's the turning point from the somber religious mood at the beginning of the disc to the livelier secular one at the end.

Ms. Kozena sings with a conviction that can translate as determination. In this album she seems to have found a successful middle ground that joins the moderate size of her voice and the largeness of her aspirations. She moves easily and convincingly from contralto to soprano range, showing a top of considerable sweetness, and she doesn't force her voice. Her German diction is exemplary, so that the music becomes about what she is saying. And Musica Antiqua Köln, led by Reinhard Goebel, is a full partner.

Ms. Kozena has another recent release from Archiv that is eminently worth a listen, a complete recording of Gluck's "Paride ed Elena" with Paul McCreesh and the Gabrieli Consort and Players. The Gabrieli ensemble plays with attractive understatement, matching the understatement of the piece itself; and Ms. Kozena - in another soprano role - is well partnered by Susan Gritton as Elena. There are even a couple of greatest hits: "O del mio dolce ardor," at least, is familiar from aria books. The opera doesn't pack quite the punch of "Orfeo ed Euridice," but this is a fine new recording of a little-known work.

"Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity, and I'm not sure about the former."

Albert Einstein


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