A diverse and thoughtful program by mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená and pianist Malcom Martineau opened the Union College Concert Series’ 45th season on Sunday afternoon. Known primarily for presenting string quartets and pianists, the series has a new concentration on singers, with a vocal recitals accounting for a quarter of the sixteen concerts that run through late April 2017.
Kožená showed a secure technique and substantial lyric tone in her opening selections by Dvorak. Apart from her natural ability to fill the room with sound, she also alighted easily from chest to head voice. The material itself was moody and romantic.
Eight songs from Hugo Wolf’s Mörike Lieder came next. Wolf went further than did Dvorak in giving some musical embodiment to the poetry at hand. There was a tolling clock in “Elfenlied” and a jaunty humor in “Abschied.” But these and other more subtle characteristics only highlighted that Kožená sings beautifully but not with a particularly broad interpretive range.
The luster of her voice is more like polished marble rather than transparent glass. There’s a surface appeal but only rare invitations to something more intimate or even secretive.
After intermission came Richard Strauss’ Three Songs for Ophelia, which were more like miniatures than full-on mad scenes. Faure’s Opus 23 that followed had a welcome legato and longer sense of line. In all the previous selections, Kožená seemed quick to swell into any crescendo she could find. But the Faure demanded restraint and became the most poetic music of the afternoon.
Schoenberg’s Brettl-Lieder ended the program with a theatrical flair. This was early Schoenberg, but still quirky and very Weimar. Sally Bowles seemed to be lurking around the corner. There were drunken surges in “Einfaltiges Lied” and “Jadem das Seine” was so chatty that the poem actually ended with “et cetera.”
© Joseph Dalton