Thursday, May 07, 2009

mezzo Magdalena Kozena...and violinist Julia Fischer

The extraordinary Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena returns to Spivey Hall Friday night (May 8 at 8:15 PM), an event I've long awaited. In her last appearance, she sang operatic arias by Gluck and Rameau with Les Violons du Roy and Bernard Labadie. This time, she performs a recital of songs by Purcell, Schumann, Duparc, and Berg.

The Robert Schumann songs are his cycle Frauenliebe und -Leben, the centerpiece of her 2006 New York recital. Here are excerpts of what Anthony Tommasini had to say in his New York Times review, "Clear Views on Life and Love" (Nov 21 '06):

You might think that for an important New York recital a noted mezzo-soprano would be wary of performing a chestnut like Schumann’s “Frauenliebe und Leben.” This classic song cycle tells the story of a young woman in love, from first crush to wedded bliss to motherhood and, in its despairing final song, widowhood.

On Sunday afternoon at Alice Tully Hall, the Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozena. . .made this cycle the major work on her much-anticipated recital. Her vocally elegant, emotionally direct and stylistically aware performance recaptured the poignancy and originality of this inspired Schumann work. [. . .]

She brought Mozartean clarity to her account of the Schumann, a refreshing break from the weighty, overly emotive performances this intense cycle often receives. Ms. Kozena boasts a true lyric mezzo-soprano voice, with dusky colorings that stem from her low register yet carry through into her shimmering high notes.

She sang the first song, “Seit ich ihn gesehen,” in which the protagonist tells of being blinded to everything but the image of her beloved, almost as a confessional. The tenderness she conveyed as the character’s progress through womanhood continued was undercut by intimations of tragedy. . . .

Her Purcell set (in Benjamin Britten's edition) includes favorites such as "Music for awhile." I'm also looking forward to the colorfully atmospheric French songs by Duparc (more familiar music that retains its freshness when sung with spirit), as well a work that will be an important discovery for some: Alban Berg's amazing Seven Early Songs, which close her formal program with Czech pianist Karel Kosarek. I last heard the Seven Early Songs last September in Milano -- they require "active listening" (attention and energy) from the listener, but can evoke an incredibly beautiful, soulful, ethereal yet deeply personal world -- as an artist the stature of Kozena can summon up. Come hear Kurt Zeller's pre-concert talk at 7:15 PM and you'll gain a great understanding of what to expect. I predict the effect will be magical.

The last of our visiting guest artists for the 2008/09 season is the phenomenal young violinist, Julia Fischer, who makes her Spivey Hall debut on Saturday, May 9 at 8:15 PM. For someone still in her 20s, she is exceptionally accompished. Her recordings wins prize internationally (she's now exclusive to Decca). She's a faculty member of a distinguished music school in Frankfurt -- one of the youngest ever to be so appointed. She enjoys huge popularity worldwide. She's invited to perform with the world's leading orchestras and conductors. She's an avid chamber musician. And if this weren't enough, she also made her concerto debut in Frankfurt as a pianist in the Grieg Concerto. The mind boggles....

Atlanta audiences applauded her performances of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto a few seasons back. Spivey Hall audiences will hear her perform Mozart, Prokofiev, Beethoven, and Martinu sonatas for violin and piano with her recital partner, Milana Chernyavska (also making her debut). We may expect to be dazzled.

Sunday at 3 PM, we welcome the Georgian Chamber Players for their spring Spivey Hall concert (a late addition to our season), featuring two heady Russian Romantic works: the lyrical Arensky Piano Trio in D minor, and Taneyev's G-minor Piano Quintet (Taneyev was the soloist who premiered Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1). Ukraine-born pianist and GCP member Valentina Lisitsa takes the spotlight in both pieces, and the GCP members are joined by guest violinist Maria Bachmann, a highly accomplished soloist, chamber musician, and recording artist. Tickets are $30 (not $40 as our postcard erroneously stated -- apologies!). If mom likes chamber music, come celebrate Mother's Day at Spivey Hall.

Next weekend: the Spivey Hall Children's Choir annual spring concerts...and the season will draw to a close. It's been a great one, with immensely rewarding performances, several of which will stay with me for years to come.

More soon on other topics, including next season, already announced, with subscriptions coming in steadily. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU, loyal Spivey Hall patrons!