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Kožená and Marcon's Handel

available at Amazon
Magdalena Kožená, Ah! Mio Cor: Handel Arias, Venice Baroque Orchestra, Andrea Marcon

(released April 22, 2008)
Archiv 477 6547

Other Kožená Reviews:
La Clemenza di Tito (Mackerras)
Mozart Arias | Lamento
Enchantment compilation
Gluck, Paride ed Elena (McCreesh)
We have admired Magdalena Kožená's recordings many times before at Ionarts. The Czech mezzo-soprano's latest disc of Handel arias forms a pleasing diptych with her earlier release of Italian cantatas by Handel with Mark Minkowski's Les Musiciens du Louvre. This was her first collaboration with Venice Baroque Orchestra and Andrea Marcon, a set of pieces performed in live concert in Brussels (review by Martine Mergeay) and elsewhere in 2007. (The recording was made in Toblach's Gustav Mahler Saal in 2006 and was released last year in Europe.) Kožená's voice is well suited to the transparency and incisiveness of historically informed performance (HIP) ensembles, and Marcon's is one of the best in the field today.

The voice can have an intense grain to it, especially toward the top at full volume (as in Alcina's "Ah! mio cor!"). This is only one color that Kožená pulls from her palette to illustrate the range of emotional states in these arias, mostly from operas and a few from oratorios. A certain vocal stridency enters for Deianira's "Where Shall I Fly?" from Hercules, quite appropriately for the context. The jealous wife of Heracles, tricked by the centaur Nessus, has accidentally caused the death of her husband and sees the Furies rise up against her to avenge him. The meaning of the line "What yellings rend my tortured ear!" is treated quite literally. Even the most dramatic moments, however, do not cross the line into ugliness (close in Orlando's mad scene "Ah! stigie larve!"). Kožená's Italian has been well coached by Rita de Letteriis, but the English is charmingly idiomatic at some points (the often pronounced "theh," for example).

The VBO plays with lean, luscious sound, featuring fine solo contributions from the oboe (Stefanie Haegele) and trumpet (Patrick Henrichs). The continuo is covered exclusively by harpsichord, with two lutes percolating through the texture at delicate moments. If there were any doubt that Kožená is a mezzo-soprano (she has flirted before with some of the soprano repertoire), her "Scherza infida" features a ghostly low F#. The cadenzas and ornamented da capo repeats, uncredited in the booklet, are all interesting and tasteful. The burgeoning Handel discography and the composer's continuing growth in popularity means that it is harder and harder to unearth real discoveries. Most of the selections, happily, are not overly familiar, but a couple of inevitable favorites ("Oh! Had I Jubal's Lyre" and "Lascia ch'io pianga") will do no one any harm.

Oh, Had I Jubal's Lyre, from Joshua (in concert in Brussels, 2007)


Anonymous said...

She looks as though she's possessed, like she's singing a "mad" scene.

Charles T. Downey said...

Heh. Someone once told me that Kožená had "crazy eyes" -- that must be what you mean.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, but Kozena is almost definitely a soprano, and a quite light one at that. Listen for example to her first solo album on DG, singing one of the most tyring soprano arias in the baroque repertoire "Zerfliesse, mein Herze".
As for the bottom F sharp, any lyric soprano is able to sing it. As as a matter of fact, what we listen in Kozena's "Scherza infida" is not actual, controled, sung darkness, but simply the only way she is able to reach the note, i.e., with a breethy sound that wouldn´t be heard in an opera house. Just compare with Von Otter (who in fact she immitates in reaching for that unwritten note).

Yes, Kozena is definitely one of today's greatest singers, and her timbre is pure gold. But no singer is perfect all the time (except perhaps Bergonzi, or Gérard Lesne...).

Charles T. Downey said...

Kožená has flirted with identifying herself as a soprano in the past, but on this album she opts definitively for mezzo-soprano. I agree with you that she is really more of a soprano (as I've written in the past), but she does not have all that much of a high range, so that category is also perhaps not exactly right for her voice.