Mixed Bag of Monteverdi From Kožená & Marcon

Review by: Robert Levine


Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 8

This strange release is somewhat off-putting. Much like Christina Pluhar and her L’Arpeggiata, Andrea Marcon and La Cetra Barockorchester take a grand Baroque view of Monteverdi. These are not chaste performances—they’d never be mistaken for readings from an English group, for instance; they are heavily interpreted, with dramatic emphases, tempo fluctuations, embellishments, and somewhat jazzy improvisations. And while the singers—and the star, mezzo Magdalena Kožená in particular—occasionally sing with an absolutely straight, vibrato-less tone, it doesn’t last long. This is not to say that the performances are inauthentic—who would dare to make a statement like that nowadays—they are merely post-rigid. Move over Emma Kirkby.

Kožená may be in strange territory, but she makes it her own. Ottavia’s two arias from L’incoronazione di Poppea are richly sung, fiercely vivid, and would be welcomed in a complete performance. Similarly, she and soprano Anna Prohaska make a meal of “Zerfiro torna”, which starts the recital, their voices cascading and intertwining to marvelous effect, with some spectacular riffing from the cornettist. The following “Lamento della ninfa” is misjudged by either Kožená or conductor Marcon: It is performed so slowly that it is more dirge than lament. Granted, the slow tempo allows the piece’s shocking dissonances to have a startling punch, but it feels like more of a stunt than a bow to the piece itself despite superb singing from Kožená, the two tenors, and bass. The divine and delightfully percussive “Damigella tutta bella” is a joy as sung by Kožená and countertenor David Feldman.

Kožená holds the attention in the Combattimento, all 21 minutes of it, in which she sings all three parts. Perhaps she could have reined herself in in moments that are purely descriptive so that the “outrage” and “bloody” sections would have been emotionally set apart, but her voice has all the colors, and Marcon’s dramatic accompaniment is chock-full with embellished commentary.

It’s a pity that the final track, the ravishing final duet from Poppea, is, like the “Lamento”, dragged out and embellished to within an inch of its life, so that it comes across as leaden rather than sensual.
As I said, a strange CD. In addition to the above, there are brief instrumental pieces by Uccellini, Merula, and Marini, handsomely played. Much beauty, a few odd choices, and although very much in the nouveau-Monteverdi-Christina Pluhar vein, not quite as inherently musical. More of a star turn, in fact. Sonics are clear, if somewhat in-your-face.

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Recording Details:

CLAUDIO MONTEVERDI: L’incoronazione di Poppea (Addio Roma!; Disprezzata regina; Pur ti miro); Il Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda; Con che soavità; Damigella tutta bella; Lamento della Ninfa; Quel sguardo sdegnosetto; Zefiro torna
BIAGIO MARINI: Passacaglia à 4
TARQUINIO MERULA: Ballo detto Polliccio
MARCO UCCELLINI: Aria quinta sopra La Bergamasca

  • Magdalena Kožená (mezzo-soprano); Anna Prohaska (soprano); David Feldman (countertenor); Michael Feyfar, Jakob Pilgram (tenor); Luca Tittoto (bass)
  • La Cetra Baroque Orchestra, Basel, Andrea Marcon

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