Magdalena Kožená & Il Giardino Armonico

Mitridate, Re di Ponto – Overture
La clemenza di Tito – Non più di fiori
Le nozze di Figaro – No so più; Deh vieni, non tardar
Symphony in D minor Op.12/4 (La casa di diavolo)
Così fan tutte – Ei parte … Per pietà
C.P.E. Bach
Symphony in F, W183/3
La clemenza di Tito – Deh per questo istante solo; Parto, parto ma tu, ben mio

Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano)

Il Giardino Armonico
Giovanni Antonini

Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter

Reviewed: 27 October, 2006
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Il Giardino Armonico was founded in Milan in 1985. It is for the most part a youthful ensemble, drawing upon leading colleges of music Europe-wide for performers who have specialised in playing ‘period’ instruments. Giovanni Antonini, a founder member, has led it since 1989. He also plays solo on the recorder and the Baroque transverse flute.

The group is quite outstanding. These musicians are truly at one with their instruments. The violin tone was warm – vibrato was permitted, sparingly. Flutes lost their rawness, and the horns – often idiosyncratic and rough still – could be made to sound soft and warm.

What was amazing and enjoyable was the sheer musicality of the performances. The opening of the overture to ‘Mitridate’ was truly grand and awesome, rather menacing – its impressiveness enhanced by the harsh ‘authentic’ horns, untameable. The lean sprightliness of the strings in the following allegro was a joy; so was the tensile, courtly elegance of the Andante grazioso that came next, with an exuberant Allegro to follow, high-spirited and – as should be so with Mozart – utterly precise. The accompaniment to the Mozart arias showed the same qualities – grandeur, delicacy and accuracy and so on.

The Boccherini symphony (The Place of the Devil) made its mark, too. Here is a keen, probing musical intelligence – writing within the constraints of the time, vigorous and original. Classicism was there – dark-toned as well as light-toned. The outer movements were intense, restless and disturbing; the inner Andante con moto while tripping daintily, with delicate instrumentation, was gently disquieting – a disconcerting surprise, when pastoral repose might have been expected. The orchestra responded strikingly and memorably to all this. The C.P.E. Bach symphony – far more conventional in structure and emotion – was in engaging and light-hearted contrast.

But the concert shone brightest from the artistry and voice of Magdalena Kožená. She has very clear tones over the whole range. Her higher notes are bell-like in their resounding certainty – and the highest peal like clarion calls. Her lower notes are also clear and darker toned, like wood panelling whose patina gleams after generations of unobtrusive care. Her technique is amazing, though not quite flawless. She began her first aria nervously and, later, lunged from low notes to high with the higher notes almost swooped up to and slightly louder than was appropriate. Her coloratura moments were formidable, though – all in the day’s work, with no sense of strain. The sympathetic virtuoso accompaniments on the basset horn and the basset clarinet deserve special mention.

More than that, Kožená is an impassioned performer – intensely and supremely, and from resources within. There is no sentimentality, nor any melodrama. But there is urgency and declamation: we in the audience are witnesses to public statements of strong, living passion and grief. Every phrase she sang was a highlight; yet what, in one respect, captivated me the most, was her recitative. I hung upon her every note, her every word – gasping at the subtle variations she introduced into the voice – in her heartfelt narration. In telling her story thus, she shone as a great singer.

  • Magdalena Kožená has recorded Mozart arias with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and Sir Simon Rattle – Archiv Produktion 477 5799
  • Kozena/Rattle Mozart CD

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