Mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená hasn't often sung Baroque music. Thus, it is all the more impressive that when she does, she devises really innovative programs with unusual music. Her enthusiasm for the project may be gauged by her comment here: "I could hardly imagine more passionate, savage, uninhibited yet loving and caressing companions for these desperate heroines than Vaclav Luks and the musicians of Collegium 1704." She's right about the musicians, yet the real spotlight is on Kožená herself. The program consists of secular cantatas from the first half of the 18th century; this genre has been neglected amidst the general rediscovery of Baroque opera. They're short pieces with a full orchestra, and the middle-sized Collegium 1704 works well here; a good-sized group is needed to stand up to one of the Handelian sopranos or castrati who would have sung this music originally. Handel is the main attraction, with an early (1707) Italian cantata, Qual ti riveggio, oh Dio, HWV 150, presented in full. It's a wonderful, little-known work, and you could sample the fabulous death wish aria "Si muora, si muora." It's in the league of Purcell's "When I am laid in earth", from Dido and Aeneas. What compels the imagination though, is the variety of styles and moods leading up to the Handel, which is at the end. The works by Marcello, Gasparini, and especially Leonardo Leo are all later than the Handel, and they move in the direction of the newer and simpler style of Gluck that was to come. Kožená reins in her voice to pure elegance here, and she puts across the intimacy of the texts. The inclusion of instrumental sinfonias by Marcello and by Leonardo Vinci is also interesting and adds to the verisimilitude of the performance. A real keeper from Kožená and, as her comments suggest, lots of fun. The only thing that's less than perfect is the sound, with a chilly Prague church detracting from the theatrical atmosphere.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Angelica e Medoro: Or ch'è dal sol difesa|
|Agrippina, HWV 6|
|Qual ti riveggio, oh Dio, HWV 150|