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GRAMOPHONE (04/2016)
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DG Archiv 4794595

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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan


It’s been a while since we’ve heard Magdalena Kožená in Baroque repertoire. Her previous recordings of music from the period, ‘Ah! mio cor’ (11/07) and ‘Lettere amorose’ (A/10), all show the mezzo at her absolute best – unforced tone, excellent colleagues, with some kick-up-your-skirts fun from the latter we’ve yet to see repeated – setting hopes high for her new Monteverdi. But after flirtations with Mahler, Debussy and Ravel, can she still go home, musically speaking?


Up to a point. Kožená teams up with crack period band La Cetra, whose virtuoso solo contributions are a delight, yet the voice isn’t quite what it was – more diffuse, painting with broader tonal brushstrokes. Here in Monteverdi that proves itself, at times, an advantage, giving greater scope to Octavia’s emotionally charged accompagnato recitatives from L’incoronazione di Poppea and helping to colour and sustain the dramatic narrative of Il combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.


But we do also lose something. Although singing early repertoire, Kozená’s stylistic choices seem at times deliberately anachronistic. In attempting to give the Lamento della Ninfa tragic, Romantic weight, Kožená slows it down almost to a standstill, obliterating the stately dance rhythms that underpin its plaints, and leaving her continuo group struggling to spread their chords any slower. The same approach brings little to the Poppea duet ‘Pur ti miro’; what should be sensual interweavings between the voices become a ponderous and emotionally inert coupling, despite the lovely contributions of soprano Anna Prohaska. Zefiro torna is, thankfully, rather sprightlier, with vivid solo contributions from Kožená’s instrumentalists, but still not a patch on L’Arpeggiata’s ecstatic, whirlwind of a recording (Erato, 6/09).


I also question Ko žená’s decision to sing all three roles in Il combattimento. Yes, there’s precedent, but unlike, for example, Bryn Terfel’s Don Giovanni baritones, characterisation here is harder won and the result tends to be somewhat undifferentiated, losing rather than gaining from a single singer.  


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