Folk Songs – Magdalena Kozena, Czech Philharmonic with Sir Simon Rattle

Bartok, Berio, Montsalvatge & Ravel: Folk Songs
4 of 5 stars

Béla Bartók
5 Hungarian Folk Songs, BB 108, Sz. 101
Luciano Berio
Folk Songs
Maurice Ravel
Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques
Xavier Montsalvatge
5 Canciones negras

Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano)

Czech Philharmonic Orchestra
Sir Simon Rattle

Recorded at the Dvořák Hall of the Rudolfinum, Prague in June 2020 (Berio), November 2022 (Bartók & Ravel) and February 2023 (Montsalvatge).

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: October 2023
CD No: Pentatone: CD, Flac downloads and stream, DXD and DSD from PTC5187075
Duration: 52 minutes



The concept behind this album is straightforward. Create a programme of 20th century works inspired by folk music.  

It opens with Bartok’s brilliantly orchestrated Hungarian Folk Songs, which date from 1933. Where, as throughout the album, Rattle and the Czech Philharmonic create beautifully balanced, transparent textures, with superb woodwind playing, which perfectly supports Kožená’s characterful singing. 

Berio’s highly accessible arrangements of eleven songs in five different languages were written between 1947 and 1964. Here the sparse, heavily chromatic orchestration is brilliantly realised by the Czech players. Kožená clearly enjoys herself and one particularly admires the way she rasps and shrieks in a la femminisca, relishes the fast repeated La la las in Ballo and bounces her way through the concluding Azerbaijan Love Song

In Ravel’s Cinq Mélodies populaires grecques Kožená and Rattle bring lieder like detail to the texts and imbue the last three songs with a sense of quiet melancholy, including the supposedly more upbeat Tout gai!

Finally we have Xavier Montsalvatge’s five songs celebrating the Caribbean (the title, Canciones negras, was par-for-the-course back in 1945) which are full of luscious melody and what was probably thought of as local colour. Here the tension sometimes slips but the Lullaby and final dance, Canto negro, are excellent. 

Pentatone usually produce excellent sound and the DSD512 version beautifully captures the hall’s over-reverberant acoustic. As always with DSD512 the image realistically distances solo instruments and sections and the orchestra has exceptional presence, Kožená is there in front of you and the instrumental timbres are very natural. The 24/96 stream is also excellent, if less life-like and the CD quality 16/44.1 is very good.

The booklet contains English translations, some of which appear to have been done by an App as opposed to a human being and the running time is too short.

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