Mira Zakai Song Recital
It is not every day we hear a recital, recorded or live, from Mira Zakai, so it is a pity that this one is so poorly presented. The biographical information is four years out of date; there are no texts included with a recital for which there certainly should be; and the Handel cantata claims to be for forces which it patently is not. This is the alto, flute and continuo version: no oboe is present.
The clarity and sensuous physicality of Zakai's enunciation in the Ravel Chansons madecasses certainly compensates as far as understanding is concerned. The distinctive, resinous quality of this Israeli contralto catches every flecking turn, each tiny portamento, with moments of warm, tremulous vibrato, even if there are moments, too, of thinness at the quiet height of a phrase.
Flute and piano tend to be over-recessed, and Yonathan Zak is too self-effacing in his Mahler accompaniments, especially in the two early songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn (''Ablosung im Sommer'' and ''Scheiden und Meiden''). Zakai, though, tenderly and hauntingly shapes the melody of ''Phantasie'' and brings a nicely veiled ardour to ''Scheiden und Meiden''.
She is at her best in Berg's early Vier Lieder, Op 2. She makes a disturbing lullaby of the first Hebbel setting, ''Schlafen, schlafen'', leaning against the piano's rich chromaticism, just as she presses down on the drooping flats of ''Schlafend tragt man mich'' to convey a sense of emotional exile. For the last piece, ''Warm die Lufte'', Berg's first wholeheartedly atonal song, Zakai creates a potent sense of the fevered, hallucinatory heat of summer night.
For Webern she artfully fuses intimacy with the songs' brief insecurity; for Handel, on the other hand, a new public persona emerges, the voice full-bodied and robustly agile in fioritura.'