Monday, November 20, 2006

Brava Kozena!

Brava to Magdalena Kozena for programming an encore by Erwin Schulhoff at her Alice Tully Hall recital in New York on Sunday. For encore fans everywhere, she began with Schulhoff’s “When I Was on My Mother’s Lap,” about 60 seconds of presto vocal filigree. Try as I might, I couldn’t find an opus number for it. It’s possible, but I wouldn’t want to have to swear to it, that it hasn’t been recorded yet. Kozena followed that with two songs of Dvorak: “There is nothing that could make me happy,” Op. 2, No. 3, and “The Mower,” also known as “When a maiden was a-mowing,” Op. 73, No. 2. Both were lovely.

Kozena put together an interesting program, beginning with five songs of Mendelssohn, which are not often peformed but deserve to be, followed by Schumann’s Frauenliebe and -leben, seven songs of Faure, and concluding with Dvorak’s Gypsy Songs, Op. 55. Kozena has a beautiful voice, and it was fascinating to hear how much she sang without vibrato—very cool, and reminiscent of early music singers like Emma Kirkby. Apparently, there is some controversy over whether she is a mezzo (vide Cecilia Bartoli) but she sounded like one to me.

Her accompanist of the afternoon, Malcolm Martineau, is of the accompanist-as-equal-recital-participant school, playing with the top of the piano up, and not a retiring partner at all. But someone needs to tell him to stop mugging at the audience at the ends of songs. It is jarring. He doesn’t need to swivel his grinning face around at the end of a comical number to make sure we get it. Malcolm, we get it, O.K? After a few grimaces from the keyboard, I had to stop looking at him. (James Levine is another one who gets into the act, in case anyone in the audience doesn’t notice the other person on stage.)

A word on Kozena’s recital dress: She seemed to be in costume for the Gypsy Songs and considering the chill in the air, I hope she didn’t catch a cold. She had on a black lace top, cut down to just above her navel, accessorized by a massive necklace/pendant affair. Her beige dress had a train she had to carry on stage, and doing so highlighted her knee-high (or nearly) black leather boots. It certainly excited comment amongst the audience members. Whether it was in keeping with the tone of Frauenliebe and -leben, and particularly the last song in the cycle, is a valid question but it is a tribute to her singing that I didn’t really notice what she was wearing most of the time.

NOTE: Kozena recorded the Schulhoff song, “Kdyz jsem byla mamince na kline” [“On my mother’s knee”] as part of her CD, Songs My Mother Taught Me. The piece comes from Národní písne a tance z Tesinksa (Folksongs and Dances from the Tesinskso Region) and is WV120 - 15 in Schulhoff’s catalog.

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