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Love & Longing / Kozena, Rattle, Berliner Philharmoniker

Kozena / Rattle / Berliner Philharmoniker
Release Date: 05/01/2012 
Label:  Deutsche Grammophon   Catalog #: 001676102  
Composer:  Maurice RavelGustav MahlerAntonín Dvorák
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

DVORÁK Biblical Songs. RAVEL Shéhérazade. MAHLER Rückert-Lieder Magdalena Kozená (ms); Simon Rattle, cond; Berlin PO DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON B0016761-02 (64:11 Text and Translation) Live: Berlin 1/2012

The singing here is absolutely beautiful, and the partnership between singer and conductor (a couple since 2004) could hardly be Read more bettered. They are clearly on the same wavelength at all points. The recorded sound, too, is superb—Kozená is always clearly audible, but never too far forward. The balances are natural; the overall sound is clear but warm. This particular combination of repertoire has never been, to my knowledge, on the same disc before, so in some ways this is a self-recommending recording.

So why am I less than enthusiastic? Not negative—not by a long shot. But also not over the top with enthusiasm. It is fair to warn the reader that my reaction is a highly subjective one, not easy to articulate with specificity, and a reaction that may not be shared by others (or, perhaps, only by some others). Every time I began listening, I loved what I was hearing. As it went on, each time I found myself at some distance from the performances. They seem too carefully thought-out, not relaxed or natural, and not fully communicative of all that is in this music. At times, they even seemed a bit fussy, though never excessively mannered.

Shouldn’t there be more radiance in Mahler’s “Liebst du um Schönheit”? More majesty in the ninth of the Dvorák songs (“I Will Lift Up Mine Eyes into the Hills”)? A more hushed quality to Ravel’s “La Flute enchantée”? When you compare this performance of perhaps the greatest of Mahler’s songs, “Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen,” to the classic Janet Baker/John Barbirolli version on EMI, you sense the difference between the latters’ complete and utterly natural communication of the mixture of desolation and tranquility of this music and a performance that is more apparently trying to communicate those qualities.

Part of the problem is that Kozená seems somewhat limited in the vocal colors available to her, and part of it seems also to be Rattle’s concern for the trees instead of the forest. Kozená’s basic sound is creamy, but with a nice focus at its core, and the voice seems comfortable in all parts of its range outside of one high note in the Ravel. She produces an even legato, and phrases with naturalness. It is very possible that another listener will react more positively to the interpretive aspects of these performances, and it would be hard for anyone to fault her singing as vocalism.

The Dvorák may be the most valuable part of this disc, partly because it lacks for first-rate recordings of the orchestral version. Dvorák orchestrated only the first five of the songs; the rest were orchestrated by Vilém Zemánek. Most singers seem to prefer the piano setting. One fine recording of that is Dagmar Pecková’s with Irwin Gage on Supraphon. For the Ravel, I would not be without Crespin and Ansermet on Decca, and for the Mahler that Baker/Barbirolli recording would be one of my desert-island discs.

So where does that leave this release? Fans of Rattle and/or Kozená may well want it, and for its unique combination of repertoire and superb vocalism others may find it attractive as well. I will return to this reading of the Dvorák in the future.

FANFARE: Henry Fogel
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Works on This Recording

Shéhérazade by Maurice Ravel
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1903; France 
Rückert Lieder (5) by Gustav Mahler
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1901-1902; Vienna, Austria 
Biblical Songs, Op. 99/B 185 by Antonín Dvorák
Performer:  Magdalena Kozená (Mezzo Soprano)
Conductor:  Simon Rattle
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1894; USA 

Customer Reviews

Average Customer Review:  1 Customer Review )
 mythic magic October 3, 2012 By keith bond (Edgecliff, NSW) See All My Reviews "not since the classic regine crespin recording of Berlioz' Nuits d'Ete has there been a serious competitor. Kozena is a more than worthy successor, and as a bonus we have her peerless Mahler and the less well-known Dvorak songs of her native Czechoslovakia. Unmissable!!" Report Abuse
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