Czech mezzo soprano Magdalena Kožená has undertaken a certain number of moderately adventurous projects, but the present release doesn't match anything she or probably anyone else has done. Prayer consists of a group of sacred songs, most of them for voice and piano, arranged instead for voice and organ. It might have been nice to get some indication in the notes as to how Kožená, or someone else, decided to undertake this project, but none is forthcoming. As a result, what anyone thinks may well depend largely on whether there is any desire to hear such a thing. But several things can be said unequivocally in the album's favor. Kožená is a sensitive interpreter who avoids religious kitsch in the individual songs, and the sheer variety of the program also works in her favor: she brings together music from Purcell to Maurice Duruflé, and most of it is so sharply recontextualized by hearing it on the organ that it holds your attention. Further, she shifts effectively among the song types on display, deploying her characteristic alto-like tone in the likes of Verdi's little-heard solo setting of the Ave Maria (not the one from the Four Sacred Pieces), and in the several Hugo Wolf pieces included, but cultivating a lighter and more radiant tone in the earlier art songs and the Baroque pieces. The Wolf arrangements are by Max Reger, providing at least a small precedent for what's done here, but the others are by the organist of the present project, Christian Schmitt. In addition to the Verdi there are several other unusual pieces, including a Dvořák Ave Maria, Op. 19b, clearly modeled on Schubert's famous melody yet nearly outdoing it in limpid simplicity. The sound environment of the Hochschule für Katholische Kirchenmusik auditorium in Regensburg is most congenial to the project. Recommended except for those annoyed by the whole idea.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim