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Lettere Amorose - Italian Baroque Songs / Magdalena Kozena


Release Date: 11/22/2010 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001492002  
Composer:  Filippo VitaliSigismondo D'IndiaClaudio MonteverdiGiulio Caccini,   ... 
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Kožená and Private Musicke convey their love for this music in readings filled to the brim with feeling and passion.

LETTERE AMOROSE Magdalena Kožená (ms); Pierre Pitzl, cond; Private Musicke DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 477 8764 (61:34 Text and Translation)

Selections by VITALI, D’INDIA, MONTEVERDI, CACCINI, DE BRIÇEÑO, MERULA, SANZ, MARINI, KAPSBERGER, DE MACQUE, FOSCARINI, STROZZI, DE RIBAYAZ

I Read more previously encountered the singing of Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená on a disc of Handel arias from opera and oratorio and last month heard her sing Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande live on a Metropolitan Opera broadcast, a somewhat more modern and vocally austere work. Kožená has a lovely light lyric voice, the range of which seems to lie somewhere between traditional soprano and traditional mezzo, with an extended top that allows her to sing many soprano pieces. Sometimes she tends to struggle a bit with the lower reaches of chest voice, where true mezzos such as Cecilia Bartoli and Ewa Podles dwell to such beautiful effect.

Recently, Kožená has been one of Europe’s most prolific singers on recordings, churning out an average of about two discs a year for the Deutsche Grammophon label since about 1997, many of which are highly acclaimed. Among some 25 previous CDs she has sung Baroque works by the Bach family, Vivaldi, and Rameau, as well as the aforementioned Handel, yet aside from a pair of French liturgical works by Marc-Antoine Charpentier, I believe this is the first time on recording she has dipped her shapely toe into the more remote waters of the 17th century, early Italian 17th century to be more precise. That Kožená brings it all off so well here is a credit to her lovely, rich, expressive voice and firm sense of musicality.

The monadic vocal works on this recording are Italian secular lute songs of the early 1600s, not folk music, not music for the church, and not songs of the itinerant troubadours (all of which Kožená’s own somewhat misleading quote in the booklet notes seems to imply), composed by practicing musicians to poetry of the period meant to be accompanied on lute and played in the palaces of wealthy patrons and the princes of the numerous Italian royal courts. The disc theme is the various facets of love; the CD title, Lettere Amorose (Love Letters), is taken from an early Monteverdi song Kožená learned and enjoyed singing as a student at the Brno Conservatory, but which is not actually included here. From O bei lumi (Filippo Vitali, 1618) and Si dolce è il tormento (Claudio Monteverdi, 1624) to Odi Euterpe (Giulio Caccini, 1602), the songs run the gamut of the softer and sometimes more bitter emotions aroused by love. A rather harrowing lullaby to the infant Jesus, Hor ch’è tempo di dormire (Tarquino Merula, 1638), starts soothingly, but goes on to describe the horrific events of his crucifixion and death. Among highlights is Barbara Strozzi’s rather dramatic lament to unfaithful love, L’Erclito amoroso , with its haunting minor keys and dissonance. Kožená uses rubato and vocal coloring to add just the little edge of appropriate drama and emotion to this piece, as she does with the others to such good effect. No pallid, vibratoless singing here.

The singer is ably assisted in her music-making by the continuo group Private Musicke, led by Pierre Pitzl, whose arrangements replace the somewhat edgy, mournful sound of traditional lute accompaniment with the softer, warmer sound of period guitars, and add a basso continuo line, possibly a negative for purists, but a very enjoyable effect indeed. While the group’s fuller sound and rhythmic impetus may here and there overpower the delicacy of a quavering emotion or two, overall they prove very sensitive to the vocal line and are a strong asset to the singing. Included also are five short instrumental works of dance-like music interspersed throughout, which have the effect of cleansing the aural palate between songs. Full texts and translations in three languages are supplied. This lovely recital disc is another winner for Kožená and earns my full endorsement.

FANFARE: Bill White

It happens that a disc is so completely enchanting that one almost boils over with joy. This is one of those. And the reason for the joy is not spectacular orchestral sonorities and/or dramatic vocal gestures. It’s just that the songs and the performance of them are so united. There is no discernable borderline between the music and the interpretation. The voice, the instruments and the music coalesce, and it seems that they couldn’t exist independent of each other. They could, they do, but the effect on at least this listener was so overwhelming that it felt like being present at a revivalist meeting.

Strong words, I know, but there are reasons. Magdalena Kožená is, at a time when the world is blessed with an enormous range of great mezzo-sopranos, one of the fixed stars during the last decade and what is so special about her is her total identification with whatever she sings. She has a marvellous voice but she never uses it for superficial vocal acrobatics; she works in the service of the music. On this disc there isn’t a note that isn’t weighed on a pair of gold scales and that’s what so endears her to me. Technical matters are unimportant – though there is a lot of hard labour behind the final product – and the music comes to the fore.

The music, yes. A quick browse through the header tells the reader that these are songs from the 17 th century, and I suppose that for those who are not generally interested in ‘ancient music’ most of the composers’ names are unfamiliar; Monteverdi possibly excepted. But this in no way rules the music out. I am fully aware of the fact that there are a lot of lovers of ‘art music’, which seems to be a better term than ‘classical music’, for whom the history of music starts with Bach and the other late baroque masters. I once nurtured that opinion myself but providence helped me by letting a disc with renaissance and early baroque music slip into a bunch of LPs I ordered from Concert Hall –Alfred Deller was one of the artists – and then I suddenly found that here was a new field of music with marvellous songs and instrumental pieces.

This disc should be a similar introduction to many. Magdalena Kožená used to sing music from this period while she studied at the conservatory in her native Brno, so this disc is in a way a return to the roots. At the time when the music was new there were no strict borderlines between ‘classical’ and ‘popular’ songs. Nor were they necessarily intended for concerts in the modern sense of the word. People gathered and sang to each other or together - a kind of 17 th century jam session. There are several great names of the period represented. Monteverdi was no doubt the greatest and has become the symbol of the early opera, even though he wasn’t quite the first one to write operas. Caccini wrote at least three operas several years before Monteverdi and listening to the dramatic verve in the song to Euterpe (tr. 4) it’s easy to understand that he was a man of the theatre. Monteverdi’s Si dolce è il tormento (tr. 3) also has operatic feeling. But all the music here is on a very high level of invention and beauty and possibly the greatest find for many newcomers to this repertoire may be Sigismondo d’India. He is certainly on a par with Monteverdi and maybe even more harmonically daring and original. The elegiac Cruda Amarilli (tr. 2) is a masterpiece and so is his Tasso setting Ma che? Squallido e oscuro (tr. 8). But Kapsberger is also a fascinating composer. As his name reveals he was of German descent but worked in Rome. Merula shouldn’t be overlooked and his almost nine minutes long Canzonetta (tr. 6) is captivating, a mix of lullaby and elegy.

It must also be pointed out that there were several female composers active during the 17 th century, Caccini’s daughter Francesca for example – though not represented here – and the remarkable Barbara Strozzi. Also a singer she was a prolific producer of secular songs, many of which she also wrote the lyrics for. L’Eraclito amoroso is a truly passionate song.

Magdalena Kožená and Private Musicke worked together with this repertoire at a number of concerts before they went into the studio to set down what had been thoroughly discussed and tried out. They also manage to convey their love for the music. The eight musicians play on plucked and bowed string instruments plus percussion. Besides the songs they also have some instrumental numbers on their own. I must mention, too, that Ms Kožená hasn’t adopted the commonly used style of historical interpreters with little or no vibrato and a restrained approach. Hers are readings filled to the brim with feeling and passion.

Seasoned lovers of the music of this period and lovers of the singer will need no encouragement to purchase this disc. Those who for some reason still aren’t convinced are advised to go to Youtube to get a taster. It certainly whets the appetite.

– Göran Forsling, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

1.
O bei lumi by Filippo Vitali
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
2.
Le musiche, book 1: Crud'Amarilli, che col nome ancora by Sigismondo D'India
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1609; Italy 
3.
Madrigals, Book 9: Si dolce č'l tormento by Claudio Monteverdi
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: 1624; Italy 
4.
Le nuove musiche: Odi, Euterpe by Giulio Caccini
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1602; Italy 
5.
Caravanda Ciacona by Luis de Bricenco
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
6.
Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, Op. 13: Hor ch'č tempo di dormire "Canzonetta Spirituale" by Tarquinio Merula
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1638; Italy 
7.
Le musiche, book 1: Ma che? squallid'č oscuro by Sigismondo D'India
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1609; Italy 
8.
Instrucción de música sobre la guitarra espanola, Book 1: Canarios by Gaspar Sanz
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
9.
Con le stelle in ciel che mai by Biagio Marini
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: 17th Century 
10.
Felici gl’animi by Giovanni Kapsberger
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1623 
11.
Capriccio stravagante by Giovanni de Macque
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
12.
Aurilla mia, quando m’accese by Giovanni Kapsberger
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1619 
13.
Le musiche, book 5: Torna il sereno zefiro by Sigismondo D'India
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Renaissance 
Written: by 1623; Italy 
14.
Ciacona by Giovanni Paolo Foscarini
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
15.
Cantate, ariette e duetti, Op. 2: L'Eraclito amoroso - Udite, amanti by Barbara Strozzi
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1651 
16.
Luz y norte musical: Espanoletas by Lucas Ruiz de Ribayaz
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1677; Spain 
17.
Curtio precipitato et altri capricii, Op. 13: Folle č ben che si crede by Tarquinio Merula
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Pierre Pitzl
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Private Musicke
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1638; Italy 

Sound Samples

O bei lumi
Cruda Amarilli
Si dolce č il tormento
Odi Euterpe
Caravanda Ciacona (Improvisation)
Canzonetta Spirituale
Canarios (Improvisation)
Ma che? Squallido e oscura
Con le Stelle in Ciel
Felici gl'animi
Capriccio stravagante
Aurilla mia
Torna il sereno zeffiro
Ciacona (Improvisation)
Cantate, Ariette e Duetti, Op.2: L'Eraclito amoroso (Udite amanti)
Espanoletas
Folle é ben

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