Simon Rattle/Magdalena Kožená et al review – ensemble outshines the stars

Wigmore Hall, London
Husband and wife showcase with a thrown-together feel sees Rattle and Kožená outperformed by their string quartet

Simon Rattle’s debut appearance at London’s chamber-music HQ – as pianist, not conductor – was a kind of bring-your-husband-to-work day for mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená, who has her own series of concerts there this season. Presumably it was Rattle’s presence that so inflated the ticket prices; but the performance itself took a long while to come anywhere near justifying them.

Six other formidable musicians were onstage: a string quartet drawn mainly from Rattle’s Berlin Philharmonic, flautist Kaspar Zehnder, and Andrew Marriner, who will be Rattle’s principal clarinettist when he takes over the LSO. The first half was intriguingly programmed, mostly songs on a Shakespearian theme. Kožená wove gleaming, elastic threads around the muted strings and piano in Chausson’s Chanson Perpétuelle, but was less comfortable sparring with flute, viola and clarinet in Stravinsky’s three lean Songs from William Shakespeare.

Magdalena Kožená
Rare moment of animation … Magdalena Kožená. Photograph: Simon Jay Price/PR

Duetting with Rattle in Strauss’s Ophelia Songs, she was more confident; but still, her topmost notes stubbornly refused to bloom. It was good to hear Ravel’s sultry Madagascan Songs from 1926, the middle one a bold anti-colonial statement. But all these performances had a thrown-together feel, with Kožená reading off a music stand and only fitfully animating the words, Rattle melting into the background, and the others seizing their solos but not seeming part of a fully formed interpretation.

In the second half Brahms’s Two Songs with Viola, for which Kožená and Rattle were joined by Amihai Grosz, at last brought a buzz of energy to the platform. Kožená is reliably at her best in her native, Czech repertoire: Rikadla, Janáček’s succinct, strident nursery-rhyme settings, were vividly done, with Marriner and Rattle cheeky and incisive; and Kožená’s voice glowed in seven Dvorak songs, given in new arrangements involving the whole ensemble. And this was indeed an ensemble concert, not a star recital; of the final encore, Strauss’s Morgen, it’s Daishin Kashimoto’s violin solo that lingers in the memory more than Kožená’s singing or Rattle’s playing.


Erica Jeal

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Magdalena Kožená/ Mitsuko Uchida review – mixed blessings
Schoenberg’s cabaret songs showed singer and pianist at their best, but in the main, the recital left one wanting a little more from both musicians

Erica Jeal

06, Oct, 2015 @12:24 PM

Article image
Berliner Philharmoniker/Rattle review – mesmerising Lachenmann, compelling Mahler
Helmut Lachenmann’s startling Tableau was perfectly suited to the clarity of Simon Rattle’s style, while Mahler’s Second became genuinely awesome

Tim Ashley

16, Feb, 2015 @12:31 PM

Article image
Magdalena Kožená review – mezzo misbehaves, gently, with Cole Porter
Issues with sound levels marred the singer’s trip through the Porter songbook with a Czech big band, which would have benefited from more provocative wit

Tim Ashley

11, Jul, 2016 @11:15 AM

Magdalena Kožená – review

A programme of Ravel, Haydn and Bartók played to Kožená's strengths, writes George Hall

George Hall

13, May, 2013 @8:39 AM

Article image
LSO/Simon Rattle review – glorious season finale
Pianist Krystian Zimerman reunited with the conductor for a finely tuned programme than ranged from Rachmaninov to Beethoven

Andrew Clements

01, Jul, 2016 @12:16 PM

Article image
Facing the music: Magdalena Kožená
Ella Fitzgerald, Krystian Zimerman and, strictly in private, Cuban jazz - the singer tells us about her musical tastes on and off the concert platform

09, Feb, 2015 @7:00 AM

Article image
Simon Rattle: 'I would have been wary about taking the job had I known about Brexit'
The conductor is returning to the UK to become Music Director of the London Symphony Orchestra. What does he see as the responsibilities of such a role today, what’s happening with the new concert hall, and how do you restrain freedom-loving tortoises?

Erica Jeal

04, Aug, 2017 @11:00 AM

Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment/Simon Rattle – review
The continuing rapport between orchestra and conductor was immediately and sustainedly obvious in this delightful Haydn and Mozart concert, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

22, Jun, 2011 @6:30 PM

Article image
LSO/Simon Rattle review – the two make a great team

After an erratic start, Rattle hints at how scintillating a rumoured future with London Symphony Orchestra might sound, writes Martin Kettle

Martin Kettle

03, Jun, 2014 @2:36 PM

Article image
Sir Simon Rattle to make his Wigmore Hall debut
London concert hall announces complete Schubert song cycle, live-streamed concerts, and subsidised ticket scheme for under 35s.

Imogen Tilden

10, Feb, 2015 @1:01 PM