Songs My Mother Taught Me – Magdalena Kožená & Malcolm Martineau

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If I were a strawberry plant [Traditional]
Janáček
Moravian Folk Poetry in Song [selection – The Little Bench; Little Apple; Musicians]
Silesian Songs from Helena Salichova’s Collection [selection – Hey, what nightingale is this?; In the black wood]
Dvořák
Gypsy Melodies, Op.55 [selection – Songs my mother taught me; The strings are tuned; And the wood is quiet all around]
Evening Songs, Op.3 [No.2: I dreamt you were dead]
Moravian Duets Op.32 [selection – The Ring; A Captive]
Schulhoff
Folksongs and Dances from the Tĕšínsko Region [selection – She was grazing her oxen; When I was on mummy’s lap; Come and sit in my trap]
Eben
Lute Songs
Rösler
An die Entfernte
Novák
Fairytale of the Heart, Op.8
Martinů
Songs on Two Pages

Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano) & Malcolm Martineau (piano) with Dorothea Röschmann (soprano) & Michael Freimuth (guitar)

Recorded March 2007 in Bavaria Musikstudios, Munich


Reviewed by: Richard Nicholson

Reviewed: October 2008
CD No: DG 477 6665
Duration: 70 minutes

 

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The single example of Dvořák’s “Evening Songs” included is the beautiful ‘I dreamt you were dead’. The deeply-felt love conveyed by the lavish melodic lines is given the weight of Kožená’s opulent tone but this does not preclude her conveying the resentment the poet also feels by the sting she gives to certain consonants. This song should be in every recitalist’s repertoire.

The great majority of these songs lie in a narrow area around the middle of the voice; in any case, Kožená’s is a high mezzo, not one of those whose attraction stems from the tension of covering high-written lines. When she is joined by Dorothea Röschmann in two of Dvořák’s “Moravian Duets” it is difficult to distinguish between them. The flamboyant ‘The Ring’ is like a Gypsy dance: one can picture them grinning to each other at the end, delighted with their own athleticism. The slow-moving ‘A Captive’ brings deliciously warm tone from both.

The third acknowledged master featured on this release is Martinů, who has a stimulating individual approach to the setting of the folk texts in his “Songs on Two Pages”. These were the songs I immediately chose to listen to again after my first playing of the disc. This is all lightweight music, I suppose, but both artists apply their skills generously to it.

Erwin Schulhoff (1894-1942), a victim of Nazi persecution, is more radical in his “Songs and Dances from the Tĕšínsko Region”. The three of fifteen songs selected display a ribald wit. The first, ‘She was grazing her oxen’ is a conversation between a cunning boy with an eye for the main chance and a coquettish girl, reminiscent of Brahms’s “Vergebliches Ständchen”; the dialogue is brilliantly acted out by Kožená. In ‘Come and sit in my trap’ there is a suggestive undertone to the ingenuous girl’s reluctance to part from her parents, with its implied meaning of surrendering her virginity. Kožená’s enactment and Martineau’s supporting little comments in the accompaniment are perfectly judged.

By contrast, the “Lute Songs” of Petr Eben (1929-2007) set texts, to guitar accompaniment, from the Renaissance in the musical style of that period. The composer, who survived first Buchenwald then the deadening restrictions of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia to become a highly respected international figure as performer, academic and composer, chose poems in Czech but also in English (Herrick), French (Ronsard) and German. The setting of ‘I dare not ask’ is strongly reminiscent of Dowland.

Where Schulhoff uses identifiably modern musical language, Vítězslav Novák (1870-1949), from a generation earlier, looks backward in “Fairytale of the Heart” towards Brahms and Tchaikovsky. ‘A melancholy song’ has the latter’s piquancy in depicting unsatisfied yearning. Where the songs on the disc up to this point have been miniatures, here are opportunities for Kožená’s operatic potential to emerge. The tessitura is wider, the emotional range more testing. In ‘Is it a dream?’, her ecstatic fullness of tone forms the climax of a finely-structured song. Unfortunately the aura of reverberation is particularly conspicuous here, especially in the high-lying passages.

The oldest music here is a setting of Goethe’s poem “An die Entfernte” by Jan Josef Rösler (1771-1813). This clearly has aspirations to belong in the international musical and indeed artistic realm. It has something of the manner of a Mozart Concert Aria. It is an impressive surprise to find it not a formulaic setting but enterprisingly through-composed.

Texts and translations are provided. This issue should bring education and enjoyment across geographical and cultural borders.

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