Love and Longing

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Antonín Dvorák; Maurice Ravel; Gustav Mahler
LABELS: Deutsche Grammophon
ALBUM TITLE: Love and Longing
WORKS: Dvorak: Biblical Songs; Ravel: Schéhérazade; Mahler: Rückert-Lieder
PERFORMER: Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano)


The programmes of Magdalena Ko‑ená’s recital CDs are always thought-provoking. Although all these three song cycles were composed within a ten-year period, they could hardly be more contrasting. Dvoπák’s Biblical Songs, psalm settings which manage to be both profound and yet utterly simple in delivery, seem to occupy an almost entirely different world by comparison with the sensuality and exoticism of Ravel’s magically evocative Shéhérazade. It might be possible to see connections between Mahler’s Rückert-Lieder and Dvoπák’s songs in their directness and poignancy, but as whole this programme offers a bold collection of contrasts united only by the period in which they were written.

Throughout the Rückert-Lieder the diction is excellent, dramatic emphases are absolutely in place and there is, notably in ‘Um Mitternacht’, some superb legato singing. While always beautiful, Ko‑ená’s tone here could perhaps do with more shading. Much the same is true of the Ravel where again there is much beauty, but not a great deal of contrast; also the diction is less distinct. Dvoπák’s Biblical Songs are almost entirely excellent. The arrangements, by Vilém Zemánek, are rather lusher than the composer’s own orchestration of the first five, but are certainly effective particularly when played as exquisitely as they are here. Ko‑ená projects the sincerity of these settings magnificently, even if she does not equal V˘era Soukupová’s classic performance (with piano) on Supraphon. Just occasionally, the pacing, notably in ‘By the waters of Babylon’, seems a touch rushed, but in general these are lovely performances.


Jan Smaczny