Kozena is currently blazing a bright trail in the mezzo firmament. With endlessly creamy sound, absolute ease of tone production, and just enough of a theatrical element, its easy to understand why. She took a serious, almost operatic view of Brahms. This was the Brahms of A German Requiem, not the Deutsche Volkslieder, making the most of dramatic contrast as at the sad conclusion to the spinning-song (Op.107/5), the stretching-out of the final phrase of Op.85/3, and the pictorial rendition of Wennich wuste, du mein weisses Antlitz (Op.95/1).
Rather than emphasise the concentration and density of late Brahms, there were times when greater ease and playfulness would have been preferred. Das Madchen spricht, though light enough, was more declamatory than teasing; The Maidens Curse (Op.69/9) was notable for genuine outrage than ironic humour, which is the true subject of the poem. As for Martineau, he was impeccable. Witness the expert imitation of the spinning wheel (Op.107/5) or his wit in Op.107/3; he was impressively atmospheric in Le grillon, or in imitating the shimmer of water in Le cygne.
Kozenas Ravel was carefully prepared and convincingly delivered. Here was scope for her operatic inclinations in the rhetoric and busy-bodying of the guinea fowl, and the staccato imitation of it legs running around the farmyard, or in the preening and raucous cry of the peacock. There were perfectly turned moments too, most notably the evocation of stillness for the appearance of the kingfisher. If the renditions lacked the last degree of idiomatic conviction, it was hard to isolate why.
Until the next group However good the Ravel, the all-important difference was instantly apparent with Dvoraks songs she was on her own territory, entirely inside the music. I dreamt last night, which cannot be well known, emerged as a major love song. Throughout the Op.2 set there was a naturalness and authenticity that made the Ravel, in retrospect, seem over-studied. Dvoraks settings are straightforwardly Romantic vehicles of love themes distance, absence, loss, nature and dreams; from Kozena they are worth their place in the repertoire as much as the German favourites they resemble.
Janacek was a great collector of folk songs. During 1892 to 1901 he arranged fifty-three, the piano accompaniments intended to reveal each songs characteristic motif. These accompaniments are frequently pictorial, the horses in the first song for example. For these selections from her native Moravia, Kozena perceptibly relaxed. If, at the start of her recital, she was over-serious, the final Janacek song, Constancy, redressed the balance, which allowed Kozena to end on exactly the right note mixing simplicity of emotion, artfulness of composition and lyrical beauty of sound with a dramatic edge.
- Originally broadcast live, BBC Radio 3 repeats this recital on Sunday, 23 December, at 1pm. Click here to Listen on-line