ALBUM TITLE: Handel
WORKS: Ah! mio cor: arias from Alcina, Hercules, Agrippina, Giulio Cesare in Egitto, Joshua, Ariodante, Theodora, Orlando etc
PERFORMER: Magdalena Ko?zená (mezzo-soprano); Venice Baroque Orchestra/Andrea Marcon
CATALOGUE NO: Archiv CD
Just as Alcina, the sorceress of the title aria, uses her magical powers to bewitch all who hear her, so Magdalena Kožená beguiles and enchants throughout this captivating collection. The Czech mezzo’s mature voice combines radiant purity with burnished intensity and, ranging from coloratura to chest voice, she negotiates Handel’s quick-fire show-pieces with dazzling bravura. Above all, though, Kožená’s ability to dramatise her roles with such conviction makes for compelling listening. She creates an intense emotional charge in Alcina’s powerful monologue ‘Ah! mio cor!’ and her account of the disturbing mad-scene ‘Where shall I fly’ from Hercules is electrifying. She is serene in Sesto’s aria ‘Cara speme’; seraphic in ‘Oh! had I Jubal’s lyre’; starkly seductive as the scheming Agrippina, and heart-rending in ‘Scherza infida’, feverishly scaling the heights as well as plumbing the depths of its anguished vocal line.
Despite such romantic ardour, Kožená’s long immersion in Baroque music ensures her performances are always stylistically informed: she embellishes da capos with eloquent grace, varies her use of vibrato to heighten moments of emotional tension, and always places dramatic effect before pure beauty of sound. The musicians of Venice Baroque respond to her incantations with thrilling energy and passion, conjuring up a wonderful array of colours and moods to create magical scene changes and theatrical transformations. All in all, the results are
completely spell-binding. Kate Bolton