After earlier Vivaldi and Handel recitals with the Venice Baroque Orchestra and Andrea Marcon, it’s back to the Baroque for Czech mezzo Magdalena Kožená, who again teams up with Marcon for a programme devoted to the music of one of Kožená’s teenage crushes: Claudio Monteverdi.
Apparently Kožená was just 16 years old when she co-founded her own early music ensemble to perform the Mantuan master’s music. So this recording is a homecoming of sorts, and if Kožená is nowadays more associated with Romantic repertoire you need only look to the complex, extravagant and emotionally charged music and lyrics of these madrigals and opera excerpts to see how there’s not really that much of a leap between Monteverdi and Mahler.
Of course, there’s also a lot more scope for improvisation in Renaissance and Baroque repertoire, and therefore more legitimate opportunities for the performer to stamp their own personality on the score. This heightens rather than diminishes the music’s emotional impact. There is also more room to ‘orchestrate’ in the sense of which instrumental colours to include; here, La Cetra comprises strings, a cornett, lutes, guitar, psaltery, harpsichord, organ and percussion.
Thus the opening Zefiro torna, e di soave accenti from the Scherzi Musicali is a bright evocation of spring as cornettist Andrea Inghischiano, Kožená and soprano Anna Prohaska skip joyfully through a sylvan landscape animated by gentle breezes. These two vocal soloists will return at the end of the recording for surely one of the most tender and captivating finales to any opera, the duet between Nero and Poppea Pur ti miro from Monteverdi’s L’Incoronazione di Poppea; but not before further musical delights are tasted, more emotional extremes traversed.
Such as the intensely moving Lamento della Ninfa from Moteverdi’s famous Madrigali Guerrieri, et Amorosi, in which Kožená is joined by tenors Jakob Pilgram, Michael Feyfar and bass Luca Tittoto. Languorous, pained, passionate… there seems nowhere to go after this. Yet still to come are two gloriously sung solos by the jealous, scorned Ottavia from L’Incoronazione di Poppea. And the extraordinary Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda from the Madrigali Guerrieri, et Amorosi, a real tour de force in which Kožená sings all three roles.
Marcon’s direction from the harpsichord is focused yet flexible; and indeed, that the instrumental playing is every bit as gusty and imaginative as Kožená’s singing is further evinced by the inclusion of attractive instrumental pieces by Uccellini, Merula and Marini.