Magdalena Kozena, Wigmore Hall, London;<br></br> The Cardinall's Musick, St John Smith Square, London

She's good ? but there's a long way to go before she's great
Click to follow
The Independent Culture

Angelika Kirschlager. Lorraine Hunt Lieberson. Susan Graham. Anne Sofie von Otter. Lately it seems that you can't so much as step into a concert hall without tripping over a seriously good mezzo-soprano. Do we really need another one? In the case of Deutsche Grammophon's latest star, 28-year-old Czech singer Magdalena Koz(breve)ená, the answer is a qualified yes. The voice itself is undeniably beautiful – with a glorious glow at the top and a mournful, sweet richness at the bottom – the singer also. The qualification is that I'm not convinced that Koz(breve)ená – whose top As sound easier than many a soprano's – is actually a mezzo.

At this stage, Koz(breve)ená's supple, shimmering voice could go either way. More problematic though is her ability to paint an atmosphere without the benefit of costume or backdrop. After listening to her packed recital of Brahms, Ravel, Dvor(breve)ák and Janác(breve)ek, I was undecided over which was more cruel: to deprive an enthusiastic public of a ravishing voice that is still developing, or to throw an inexperienced lieder singer into a venue like the Wigmore Hall. Koz(breve)ená's natural, poppy charm was sufficient to lift the gloom of a power-cut-stricken stage, but I doubt that I'm alone in wondering what, beyond that ravishing sound, she really brought to this repertoire. In the case of Dvor(breve)ák and Janác(breve)ek, it was a hot, fidgety, idiomatic energy – perfect for these dark, fetishistic songs. In the case of Ravel's Histoires Naturelles, it was a tonal beauty that matched the music but ignored the lyrics. In the case of Brahms's Sechs Mädchenlieder, she brought only youth.

Recitals are more demanding than most opera – let alone Koz(breve)ená's field of 18th-century opera where the roles lean to archetypes – and I don't think she is quite ready for this level of characterisation yet, even with Malcolm Martineau's astute accompaniment. The sounds Koz(breve)ená produces – though beautiful – are oddly unrelated to text, which is why songs which suggest a particular moment were highly successful (such as the Dvor(breve)ák), and ones with narrative or dialogue (such as the Ravel and Brahms) were not. Like the Harry Potter movie, Koz(breve)ená in recital will be a hot ticket regardless of what I or any other critic might say, and I've no doubt there's a brilliant operatic career waiting for her – be it as Xerxes or Romilda. But I think we've a while to wait before her Frauenliebe und Leben is one to cherish. My advice? Steer clear for a few years, let her develop and deepen her interpretations, and enjoy her recordings and opera performances instead. One summer does not a great recitalist make.

You can blame it on too much exposure to Carols for Choirs at an early age, but seasonal choral music is usually enough to make me crawl under the duvet. Which may explain how astonished I was to enjoy any concert entitled In Dulci Jubilo, let alone one containing four different arrangements of that carol (none of them by Pearsall). The Cardinall's Musick's programme was, with one tiny exception (interpolating verses of Walter and Bach's In Dulci Jubilo settings), about as far away from the over-arranged schmaltz of most carol concerts as you could get, with repertoire that ran from the utter simplicity of Praetorius's strophic songs, to the sensual Italianate floridity of Schütz's trios Rorate Coeli and Hodie Christus Natus Est, and on to the passionate outpouring of Bach's Komm, Jesu, Komm. It was a beautifully programmed evening, sung with expressive ease and seamless blend by the eight excellent singers, and em-ceed with great humour by their director Andrew Carwood. Believe me, I am Scrooge personified, but I came out of this performance feeling very festive indeed. Superb stuff.

a.picard@independent.co.uk

Comments