Lettere Amorose

Magdalena Kožená, Private Musicke, Pierre Pitzl
61:33
Deutsche Grammophon 477 8764
Briçeño, Giulio Caccini, Foscarini, d’India, Kapsberger, Marini, Merula, Monteverdi, de Ribayaz, Sanz & Barbara Strozzi

There are several giveaways that provide a clue as to what to expect here. The recital is a collection of mostly early 17th-century Italian songs interspersed by instrumental pieces, the kind of thing one would expect to appear on Archiv rather than the parent Deutsche Grammophon label. Then there’s the celebrity cover photo, showing Magdalena Kožená, wearing a dramatic ball gown, arms outstretched, apparently tossing around the love letters of the CD’s title. Further investigation reveals that her accompanists Private Musicke are an 8-piece ensemble who bow (occasionally), pluck and hit things much in the manner of L’Arpeggiata. Moreover, the notes are largely a puff for the singer, whose quotes take up much of its space. In short, this is a CD aimed at Kožená fans rather than early music enthusiasts.

The singer is cited as stressing the simplicity of this repertoire, but she and her backing group (the term seems appropriate here) bring to it an artifice that suffocates that very simplicity beneath thick layers of romantic varnish. Kožená’s voice has now assumed a mantle of continuous vibrato, her diction in music where words are of paramount importance is poor and she shows little sense of style or command of appropriate ornamentation. Just occasionally the attention is caught (Marini’s ‘Con le stelle in ciel’, for example, does convey a certain charm), but I’m afraid there is little here to engage either senses or mind, the CD acting more as a kind of musical Ibuprofen. Others will no doubt disagree, but early music enthusiasts who enjoy this repertoire will find it far more satisfying in the hands of a Maria Cristina Kiehr, to name but one singer who excels in it.

Brian Robins