CD Review: Monteverdi/ Magdalena Kožená/ La Cetra/ Andrea Marcon


Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená has added to her discography of early music with Monteverdi, a collection of 9 arias for solo voice and vocal ensemble by Claudio Monteverdi.

Also on this Archiv Produktion recording are three instrumental works by Monteverdi’s contemporaries Marco Uccellini,Tarquinio Merula and Biagio Marini.

Monteverdi  represents a return to the style of Kožená’s early success. It is her third disc with Andrea Marcon, with whom she has recorded the arias of Handel and of Vivaldi.

Kožená has performed early music extensively both on stage and on disc. Her very first recording was of Bach arias. Following recordings focussed on the music of Handel, Mozart, Rameau and Gluck amongst others, French arias and more from the Bach family. Venturing beyond this style, her repertoire includes Dvořák, Janáček and Martinů, Mahler, the title role in Carmen and Oktavian in Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.

Kožená’s satin voice, technical expertise and performing style are beautifully suited to early repertoire whether she is spinning out streams of sound, unleashing stylistic ornamentation, syncopating a hemiola, crunching a suspension or swinging a dance. Monteverdi’s writing doesn’t draw on the high ornamentation of the Baroque or vertiginous coloratura. Rather, for Monteverdi, less is more. His melodies and the emotions they convey are incisive by virtue of their simplicity. His music is intimately linked with the sound of their text and their meaning – a relationship which Kožená understands and utilises to the full.

The arias selected are from Monteverdi’s songs and opera. Three arias are from his French inspired Scherzi Musicali (Damigella tutta bella from the 1607 collection); Zefiro torna, e di soavi accenti and Quel sguardo sdegnosetto from the 1632 collection); from the opera L’incoronazione di Poppea come Disprezzata Regina, Addio, Roma! and Pur ti miro; others are from his vast writings of madrigals (Lamento della ninfa, Con che soavità) including the most substantial work on the disc, the dramatic madrigal  Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, in which Kožená sings all three roles of Tancredi, Clorinda and the narrator.

It’s not all about the voice. The three instrumental interludes – Uccellini’s Aria quinta la sopra Bergamasca, Merula’s Ballo detto Pollicio and Marini’s Passacalio  quattro, give an appealing exposition of instrumental music of the time, played with great accomplishment and beauty by the 13 piece La Cetra Barokorchester Basel with Andrea Marcon directing from the harpsichord. Instruments like the psaltery, cornett, archlute, and violones add to the re-creation of the sound.  The inclusion of instrumental music on this CD is especially meaningful as Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda, scored for four viols with contrabass and harpsichord, features the earliest‐known use of the string tremolo to express excitement and the string pizzicato.

For the vocal ensemble pieces Kožená is joined by counter tenor David Feldman, tenors Jakob Pilgrim and Michael Feyfar and bass Luca Tittoto. Soprano Anna Prohaska joins Kožená in the opening and closing items. Their voices have a particularly fine alchemy in Pur ti miro.

The CD booklet contains the full text of the songs in French, German, Italian and English, along with comments from Kožená and biographical information. The recording was made in Seewen, Switzerland, in the church of St German of Auxerre in November 2014.

A very worthy addition to the collection if this is your style.


Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney©






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