Who is Carmen? A seething volcano of unfettered passions? An
independent woman with the courage to forge her own destiny? A projection of
male nympho fantasies? Or a whey-faced Berlin
housewife with the voice of an angel and two left feet?
Berliner Philharmoniker / Rattle - Grosses Festspielhaus Salzburg, 3 April 2010
Soloists - Camilla Tilling, Magdalena Kožená, Mark Padmore, Topi Lehtipuu, Christian Gerhaher, Thomas Quasthoff, Axel Scheidig, Soren von Billerbeck, Jorg Schneider; Rundfunkchor Berlin, Salzburger Festspiele Kinderchor
Bach's St Matthew Passion is big enough to stand up to almost any kind of treatment - or mistreatment. Opera, theatre, ballet, historically-informed, conductorless - you name it. Even so, placing the direction in the hands of Peter Sellars, best known for his interventionist opera productions, might sound on paper a step too far. But it turned out his direction (or 'ritualization' as the programme has it) was understated and intelligent, an aid to understanding not only the text, but also the musical structure of the work.
Magdalena Kozená / András Schiff - Wigmore Hall, 4 February 2010
Janácek Selection of Songs Janácek In the Mists Dvorák Biblical Songs Op. 99 Musorgsky Detskaya (The Nursery) Bartók Falun (Village Scenes)
Musorgsky's Detskaya (Nursery) songs ought by rights to be a rare treat only rolled out occasionally at the Wigmore Hall. But, following Ewa Podleś's recital, Magdalena Kozená gave them their second outing in six weeks. Kozená's pure, open tone marries well with the songs' childish sentiments and her reading had an unforced charm whilst never descending to mere mimicry.
My Russian companion told me Kozená's grasp of the language in these was far from perfect, not that I noticed, but neither of us had a clue about the rest of her songs. Not even what language they were sung in. The programme was unhelpfully silent on this point, but we assumed Czech for the Janácek and Dvorák and (since they were Slovak tunes) Slovakian for the Bartók. Even with an English translation in front of me, I find it hard to get much out of music when I literally don't understand a word, so it's to Kozená's credit that she could communicate at least something of the underlying emotional flow in each. Her uninhibited whoops and hollers acknowledged the folk idiom to which the music is indebted without ever succumbing to it.
Her luxury accompanist András Schiff seemed most at home in the airy, percussive Bartók. Elsewhere there was a sense that he was feeling his way rather more than might be expected - not exactly sight-reading, but far from fully internalised either.
His solo moment, Janácek's In the Mists, was the exception, though these days Schiff's tendency to pick out and emphasise a single voice, whatever he's playing, seems an almost ideological trait. It lent an appropriately lyrical, flowing quality in some places, but elsewhere felt bullying and overdone. The overall result was contemplative, bordering on the ponderous, and somewhat out of tune with the impressionistic quality of the music.
Applause from the packed house was enthusiastic, though hardly rabid. Perhaps it acknowledged that despite the high quality of execution, the material was not always equally engaging. Kozená and Schiff were wise to whip out their encores speedily - another Janácek song and Dvorák's Songs my Mother Taught Me, its timeless beauty unfortunately highlighting the shortage of the same in the main part of the recital. And don't even get me started on her frock.
And there may be further congratulations in order. Speculation that she may be pregnant with the couple's third child is given weight by recently-announced cancellations in the new year.
* Though a bit of digging reveals a profile in Die Welt last November drops in casually "by the way, they got married three weeks ago" - a revelation that doesn't seem to have been followed up anywhere else.