Monday, December 11, 2006

A couple of weeks ago I heard a recital by Magdalena Kozena, a soprano with an international career and several well-received recordings. I wrote about it and tried to summon up some enthusiasm for what I thought should have been a good concert — tried and failed. I just wasn’t moved, and I thought something must have been wrong with me: I wasn’t in the mood, or I was preoccupied by some crisis or other in my life. I told a friend that it was a perfectly nice recital but I couldn’t get excited by it. Yesterday, I heard Angelika Kirchschlager sing Schumann and Schubert, accompanied by Malcolm Martineau, who was also Kozena’s accompanist. After the first measure of Schumann’s Freisinn it was clear that the problem at Kozena’s concert wasn't my mood. It was that Kozena wasn’t as moving or as involving a singer.

Kirchschlager, whom I didn’t like the first time I heard her, carried me away, to my considerable surprise. Her voice is smooth and rich, and her legato is exemplary. The voice is not without minor flaws — there were times when an increase in volume came with too much vibrato, though that seemed to abate as she warmed up, and not every note was perfect — but that didn't matter when so her singing was so beautiful. Most of the songs in both parts of the program were unfamiliar to me, which increased the pleasure of hearing her sing them. (The program, complete with the opus numbers Playbill saw fit to leave out, can be found at the la Web site: Apparently, Kirchschlager has been touring with this same program, though she was accompanied by Helmut Deutsch in Milan. Note also that the concert there was part of a 10-concert season for 100 euros, or $130. Tickets at Tully Hall were $48 for nonsubscribers.)

Also in contrast to Kozena, Kirchschlager’s dress was much more conservative, that is to say, not cut down to there, and displayed only a bit of lace on the sleeves. If I was in the diva advisory business, I would advise Angelika to “rethink the jewelry,” since a choker and a necklace are a touch over the top, especially when the necklace is evening length and sets up a contrasting movement to the rhythm of the music. Her encores (there were only two) were Widmung by Schumann (Op. 25, No. 1, from Myrthen), which was stunning, and Hôtel by Poulenc (No. 2 from Banalités, FP 107, text by Apollinaire), which was delivered in a wonderfully idiomatic style. It was a pleasurable shock after 24 Lieder to hear so ingratiating a mélodie.

Kozena deserves another chance. Perhaps she was nervous or having an off day. Kirchschlager, after Sunday’s recital and despite the minor shortcomings, takes her place as one of my Top Ten Recitalists.