Magdalena Kožená sings Cole Porter, Wilton’s Music Hall, review: 'The concert hall equivalent of an office party'

Alexandra Coghlan
Tuesday 12 July 2016 11:09 BST
Magdalena Kožená
Magdalena Kožená

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Louise Thomas

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Until now, Magdalena Kozena has played her Wigmore Hall residency very straight, collaborating with Mitsuko Uchida and Simon Rattle in thoughtful programmes of chamber music. But for this final concert the Czech mezzo-soprano swapped Brahms for Broadway and Wigmore for Wilton’s, heading out east for an evening of Cole Porter.

A classical singer doing a jazz recital is the concert hall equivalent of an office party. The trouble is that it’s a party for one, and it’s really not a spectator sport. Self-doubt and physical awkwardness sit uncomfortably in so extrovert an environment, and it took all the showmanship and professional insouciance of Ondrej Havelka and his band to counteract the tension radiating from Kozena.

Working her way through all the classics – “Night and Day”, “Let’s Do It”, “Miss Otis Regrets” – Kožená opted for breezy, up-tempo arrangements, consistently sacrificing the emotional sophistication of these songs for something more sugary. Porter’s music is Joan Crawford, it’s Lauren Bacall or Bette Davies, not Doris Day, and that’s what we got here – songs sung nicely enough, but scrubbed clean of all darkness, irony, wit or sex-appeal.

Left to their own devices, Havelka and the Melody Makers (miked unnecessarily to painful volume) showed us how it’s really done. Solo breaks were slick and humorous, ensemble tight, and choreography relaxed. A lone Blues number for washboard, tub, comb and harmonica was a stand-out – simple, joyful and just a bit silly.

For all their melodic artlessness, Cole Porter’s songs are every bit as artful as their concert-hall counterparts. Kozena may be queen of the Wigmore, but when it comes to Wilton’s she’s still a beginner.

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