Lebrecht Weekly | Folk Songs: Magdalena Kozena/Simon Rattle (Pentatone)

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Most record reviewers listen to a release no more than one and a half times before making up their minds. Myself, I like to take a little longer. When doubt lingers or expectation is unfulfilled, I’ll return to the record a week later for relistening. It does not always resolve my qualms and my second impression can often be less positive than the first. But every now and then I’m glad I returned.

Nothing seemed to add up on my first encounter with Magdalena Kozena’s trawl through four sets of folk songs orchestrated by Bela Bartok, Luciano Berio, Maurice Ravel and the Spaniard Xavier Montsalvatge. The Hungarian set was an instant stumbling block. Orchestrated in 1933, at a low point in Bartok’s life and world, Kozena seemed to smooth over astringencies in the score and a harshness to the text. The Czech Philharmonic, conducted by her husband, sounded atypically tentative. Second time round, I had more tolerance for her relative sentimentality. Musical interpretation does not always need to accommodate a ghost of the composer’s history.

Berio’s set of American, Armenian, French, Italian and Azeri folk songs was assembled for his wife, Cathy Berberian, an American-Armenian with astonishing vocal versatility. Kozena tamps down the voltage and plays hide-and-seek with the orchestra, her playfulness countermanding Berberian’s missionary zeal. Some of the instrumental solos are filigree.

Ravel’s Greek melodies are dispatched with panache; they cannot surely be this easy to sing. In the Montsalvatge set, Kozena goes Carmen in the Caribbean. Second time round, this album turns out to be more than the sum of its parts. The disparate cultures on display yield hope that we might be one humanity, after all. Kozena is a conviction singer, and I emerged almost totally convinced.

This page is also available in / Cette page est également disponible en: Francais (French)


About Author

Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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