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Magdalena Kožená Goes Home to Brno

available at Amazon
M. Kožená, Songs My Mother Taught Me, M. Martineau, D. Röschmann, M. Freimuth

(released on April 14, 2009)
Deutsche Grammophon 477 6665

Online scores:
Antonín Dvořák, Gypsy Songs, op. 55
Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená has made beautiful recordings of Bach, Mozart, Gluck, and Handel. The diacritical marks in her name, however, and occasionally the inflection of her voice singing in foreign languages remind us that she is Czech. In fact, she grew up in Brno, where Leoš Janáček spent so much of his life, and in the liner notes of her new recording she laments that the Czech composer, whose settings of folk songs she so admires, did not include more mezzo-soprano roles in his operas. Several years after her older recording of Czech love songs with Graham Johnson, Kožená has released this disc of folk song settings, mostly of Czech origin, with Malcolm Martineau. Kožená claims that the title, Songs My Mother Taught Me, is literally true in her case, insisting on the importance placed by Czech mothers, including hers, on singing these remembered songs to their small children. It also just happens to be the title of one of the Dvořák songs (and a gorgeous one at that, from the op. 55 set of gypsy songs) found on this disc.

On the basis of the three Moravian folk songs by Janáček, especially no. 50 (Muzikanti, a little drunken serenade to some musicians, asking them to play), one wishes that Kožená would record the entire set. Sometimes, though, the delights that can be discovered in the mixed recital are irresistible. Singers looking for something off the beaten path to spruce up a plain program should definitely have a listen, although if you think German diction is complicated, Czech will tie your tongue in knots. There are worthy discoveries, like the folksongs from the Těšínsko region by Erwin Schulhoff, light-hearted pieces with a sad heart (a spirit-lifting counterpoint to the emotional devastation of another recent disc of Czech music), while the lute songs by Petr Eben (1929-2007), performed here with guitarist Michael Freimuth, are more like ear-candy. This disc is not likely to bowl anyone over, since it is more urbane than showy, but finely tooled renditions of Dvořák's Moravian duets (with the beautifully matched voice of Dorothea Röschmann) and Martinů's Songs on Two Pages (in the same vein as the same composer's Bergerettes, reviewed earlier this week) are to be savored.


Magdalena Kožená will appear at the Austrian Embassy tonight (May 6, 7:30 pm) with pianist Karel Košárek, a recital presented by the Vocal Arts Society. Although her program includes Schumann, Purcell, Duparc, and Berg, perhaps there will be some Czech folk songs served up as encores.

1 comment:

Lenabella said...

There were no Czech encores, but that was not an unfortunate thing.

One French and one German encore later (Mahler for the German piece, if memory serves), she continued to enrapture all of us with her mellifluous tones.

She is a gem and I hope our American arts world will one day catch up to our European counterparts; she has far too much talent, grace and skill, to go so un-checked (pardon the pun:), here.