In an interview published last year, Magdalena Kožená described listening to Cole Porter’s songs as one of her “musical guilty pleasures”. The Czech mezzo has, however, now embarked on a European tour with a Cole Porter programme of her own in the company of Ondřej Havelka and his Melody Makers, a Prague-based big band specialising in music of the 1920s and 30s. Though her two London concerts formed the closing instalment of her Wigmore Hall residency, they took place at Wilton’s Music Hall in the east end.
This was an evening of problems as well as pleasures, in truth. Massive and unnecessary amplification resulted in the Melody Makers threatening to drown Kožená out in places. Looking at times ill at ease on the platform, she sang cleanly and straightforwardly, leaving the improvisations, many of them stunning, to Havelka’s players.
Too much of it, however, was far too genteel. Slow, quiet numbers like Every Time We Say Goodbye, done with real depth of feeling, suited her rather well, but elsewhere she seemed out of her comfort zone. Regaling us with tales of her children back in Berlin, this was, she assured us, a “family show”, and all too frequently she played down Porter’s suggestiveness. Love for Sale was neither blatant nor vulnerable. Let’s Misbehave found her gamely essaying a Charleston with Havelka, but the song itself lacked provocative wit. It would all have been so much better if she’d permitted herself to misbehave more.