Czech Songs – Czech Philharmonic Orchestra – Sir Simon Rattle on Pentatone

Czech Orchestral Songs Magdalena Kozena
4 of 5 stars

Martinů
Nipponari – Cycle of seven songs for female voice and small orchestra, H68
Pisnicky na jednu stranku (Songs on One Page), H. 294 (orchestrated Jiri Teml}

Dvořák
Abendlieder, Op. 3
Písne na slova Gustava Pflegra-Moravskeho, Op. 2 (orchestrated Jiri Gemrot)

Krasa
Four Orchestral Songs, Op. 1

Klein
Lullaby

Magdalena Kozená (mez-sop)
Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Recorded at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague, in November 2022 (Krása, Dvořák, Klein) and February 2023 (Martinů)


Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: July 2024
CD No: Pentatone: CD, PCM downloads and stream, DSD from NativeDSD.com: dPTC5187077
Duration: 61 minutes

 

 

This, the second album of songs Magdalena Kozena has recorded for Pentatone with her husband and the Czech Philharmonic, features rarely recorded cycles from her homeland. Martinu’s Nipponari (unfortunately racist titles weren’t unusual in 1912) consists of seven songs written for a chamber ensemble featuring his distinctive musical language, with a sprinkling of what were thought of as Japanese harmonies and sounds, all imbued with wistful sadness. His epigrammatic (the longest lasts under two minutes) Songs on One Page, which date from 1943 are rhythmically, melodically and emotionally more varied and mature. Originally written for piano and voice, the orchestrations by Jiri Teml are very good, but lack Martinu’s genius.   

There are two charming groups of songs by Dvorak, Hans Krasa’s grotesque Four Orchestral Songs, Op.1, which are in German with echoes of Mahler and Stravinsky wrapped in the composer’s distinctive voice and the programme ends with a lush, if amorphous Lullaby by Gideon Klein. 

Recorded live a few months apart Kozena’s tone is beautifully focused, the vibrato controlled, yet still expressive and she revels in the melancholy that always seems to hover in the background. There are a couple of weaknesses. Occasionally, as in Krasa’s surreal the Goat and the Lizard, she could make more of the words and she rarely uses a true mezza voce. The orchestral playing is superb, with silky strings, characterful woodwind and immaculate ensemble, which enable Rattle to expertly delineate line and rhythm and capture the atmosphere of each piece. It is also a pleasure to hear in a world of bland conformity an orchestra that still sounds Czech. 

The sound is excellent. It was recorded in 24/96, but is available in DSD512. I listened to both and the lower resolution stream has plenty of body, definition, you can hear some of the Halls acoustic. And Kozena’s voice has plenty of presence. Turn to the DSD and the slightly more recessed image opens out, the acoustic is tangible and Kozena’s tone is more vibrant. It would be better still if originally recorded in DXD or DSD256, but all credit to Pentatone for offering DSD512. 

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