Album review: Magdalena Kozena, Monteverdi

By William Dart

Magdalena Kozena and her partner, the conductor Sir Simon Rattle.
Magdalena Kozena and her partner, the conductor Sir Simon Rattle.

Magdalena Kozena's new Monteverdi album makes one realise why Leo Schrade titled his 1930 study of the Italian, Monteverdi: Creator of Modern Music.

In 1952, another American, composer/critic Virgil Thomson, felt that Monteverdi's music expressed feelings more powerful than anything that preceded or followed it by nearly a century.

And who better than the versatile Czech mezzo Kozena to test the truth of these claims?

The first track of this CD is a wry duet, describing the bliss and subsequent melancholy that Zephyrus, God of the Wind, brings about when he blows down on the sylvan groves. It may sound arcane, twee and downright old-fashioned, but there's almost a pop buoyancy.

It's irresistibly catchy, bubbling along on a beguiling shuffle of plucked and strummed strings. Andrea Inghischiano gets into some funky improv on his trumpet-like cornet while Kozena and soprano Anna Prohaska, in their fluttering ornamentation, are as much soul divas as the operatic equivalent.

The passionate lament that follows brings in tenor and bass as a foil to the earthy Kozena and, early on, Monteverdi throws in some dissonant harmonies, crunchy enough to crumple the conservative brow, even in 2016.

Kozena almost flaunts her virtuosity by taking all three roles in the 20-minute Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda.

This dramatically charged tale of a famous fatal duel is beautifully underlined with apt ornamentation and vocal gesture; behind her, strings revel in the gutsy primitivism of the writing, with wild tremolos and bold repetitions of one chord that look forward to the opening of Tchaikovsky's 1812.

The mezzo also contributes two heart-wrenching arias from L'incoronazione di Poppea, against Andrea Marcon's swirling harpsichord, signing off in rapturous duet with Prohaska, on Pur ti mio, pretty enough to top the Italian hit parade if there had been one in 1643.

This disc, running for a generous 77 minutes, is a joyous adventure, thanks to the singers and the lively playing of La Cetra Baroque Orchestra under Marcon, showcased in three instrumentals by Monteverdi's contemporaries, Uccellini, Merula and Marini.

Magdalena Kozena, Monteverdi

Verdict: Czech mezzo-soprano and friends bring out the modern in Monteverdi

- Weekend magazine

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