Czech Song Recital – Magdalena Kožená
The name of Magdalena Kozena, this dazzling young Czech mezzo, came to my attention when she failed – owing to an indisposition – to turn up as the Czech Republic’s contestant at the 1997 Cardiff Singer of the World. Subsequent encounters with her in the flesh and on disc suggest to me that she would have run away with the trophy: in the male title-role of Gluck’s Paride ed Elena at Drottningholm two summers ago, in Marc Minkowski’s concert and recording of the same composer’s Armide (Archiv) and in his recent disc of Roman liturgical works by Handel (Archiv), Kozena has made a striking impression with her gleaming timbre – not unlike that of her countrywoman, the late lamented Lucia Popp, with its delectable blend of warmth and a silvered edge – her formidable technique and her innate musicianship.
For her first song recital she has wisely – and gratifyingly – turned to composers of her Czech homeland, and her carefully chosen programme is a delight from start to finish. You would have to trawl carefully through the catalogues to come up with alternative interpretations: Gabriela Benaekova (RCA, 1/94 – nla) has recorded a selection of Dvorak’s Love Songs, Op 83, but Kozena gives us all eight. Every one is such a masterpiece that their rarity on disc can presumably only be explained by the fact that Czech is an alien language to most recitalists. Kozena herself chooses a selection of seven songs from Janaeek’s compendium of Moravian Folk Poetry in Songs, and she is even more subtle, more tonally alluring and interpretatively alert than the excellent Dagmar Peckova on the complete Supraphon set (11/95). Try the exhilarating Constancy followed by the haunting Love to hear Kozena in contrasting moods: earthily passionate and heartbreakingly tender. This is ravishingly beautiful singing by any standards.
The Czech mezzo’s most valuable contribution to the recorded repertoire is her championship of Bohuslav Martinu’s neglected songs: in two of his New Slovak Songs, in his Melodies pour une amie de mon pays – a first recording of settings from Karel Erben’s Czech Folk Songs and Rhymes – Kozena reveals the authentic Czech voice of this bewilderingly eclectic, stylistically cosmopolitan composer. Martinu’s New Miniatures and Songs On One Page are delectable short songs which deserve much wider recognition. Kozena and her sympathetic accompanist, Graham Johnson, are wonderful evangelists for Martinu the song-writer in this outstanding, superbly recorded recital. A must for all lovers of song.'