Life in the Antipodes has accustomed me to enjoying my favourite singers only via recording; but this time I was actually going to coincide with one of them – Magdalena would be singing in London while I was there.
The recital in question took place on Friday. Not only was this my first in-person encounter with Magdalena, it was also – despite several previous trips to London – my first ever visit to Wigmore Hall, which is very pretty, remarkably compact and acoustically an utter delight. In such happy surroundings, I was in a good mood even before the music started; but I’m pleased to report that when it did start, La Koženà well and truly lived up to gorgeousness of the album.
Her band here was the same as on the CD, the excellent period band Private Musicke, whose leader Pierre Pitzl heralded the beginning of the recital by strolling out on stage, already playing his guitar. The rest of the group followed, instruments in hand, and among them – a barefoot and beaming Magdalena Koženà, who began to sing (Vitali’s “O bei lumi”) before anyone had a chance to applaud. Her two subsequent numbers followed in quick succession, scarcely a breath between them. Only at the end of that bracket could we give her the warm welcome she (and the band) clearly deserved.
The applause continued all evening, both for Magdalena – whose singing was even more richly expressive and dynamically varied than on record – and Private Musicke, who were given far more space to shine on their own than on the CD. Almost all of Magdalena’s repertoire was drawn from the album, and I felt a bit like a groupie at times – Lettere amorose has been on high rotate on my iPod since I reviewed it, so that despite the extreme obscurity of everything she was singing, I could just about have mouthed the words to most of it if so inclined. Good thing I didn’t have a lighter to sway in the air.
There was no interval, just seventy-five minutes of incredibly beautiful and little-known Italian and Spanish baroque music. Jaunty dances, heartwrenching laments, sweet little love songs and the world’s most upsetting lullaby – it was all here, all beautifully realised and expertly woven together. I was pretty much in heaven. Magdalena has been one of my most favourite singers for many years now, and it was wonderful not just to hear her in person, but to find her just as brilliant and as moving as I’d spent years learning to expect – if not more so.
Nor was I the only one. The laughter and stunned silences of the audience, and the warmth and volume of our applause (though we only managed to get one encore, whereas the audience on Wednesday apparently had two) all spoke of a crowd quite happily in the palm of Magdalena and Private Musicke’s collective hand. That’s certainly where I was.
My review of Lettere amorose (the CD)