Recording of the Week Songs her mother taught her
Every now and again a new disc comes along which speaks so directly to you that after just a few minutes you can tell you’re going to have to forget any hope you had of listening to anything else that day. I find it is often repertoire that I don't know very well and also tends to be female singers! I remember it happened last year with Anna Netrebko's Russian Album, where after 30 seconds of the first aria (from Tchaikovsky’s rarely performed Iolanta) I was entranced. This year it is Czech mezzo Magdalena Kožená who has been weaving the magic in her own native repertoire singing songs by Czech composers such as Dvorák, Novák, Janácek, Martinu, and Eben.
Magdalena Kožená's album, out today, is named after the best known song from Dvorák´s Gypsy Melodies "Songs my mother taught me". In the booklet she says that the title is not fanciful, and that there are indeed songs on the disc that her mother sang to her as a child and which she heard in village festivals from musicians who kept alive the traditions of Czech and Moravian folk poetry and song: “Especially the Janácek. These are songs he arranged in a very particular way, and they are just the sort a mother would sing to her baby. My mother is not a professional singer, but she loved to sing and knew a lot of songs!”
She has chosen a wide variety of songs for this disc with the simplicity of some of the Janácek and Martinù arrangements contrasting sharply with the much more sophisticated style of Novák, but what they all have in common is that they all sound very Czech. This is because all the composers were deeply rooted in the rich Czech folk song tradition and so, although how they treat them varies, they are all essentially using the same sort of folk melodies. What Kožená does brilliantly is that she alters her voice to match the character of the melodies and the songs, so some of them sound serene and beautiful, and others she gives a slightly rougher edge.
I couldn’t decide which song to give you as a sample, so opted for two – an enchanting little Janácek (oh how Kožená must wish he had written more operatic roles for the mezzo voice) and the famous Dvorák after which the disc is named. Enjoy!
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