An entire album of music for voice and organ is an intriguing prospect, especially where the concept is as broad as that of musical prayer. You'll find Bach, as you might expect, and Schubert's famous Ave Maria. But there's also Bizet, Verdi and Wolf – in arrangements made by organist Christian Schmitt himself and performed in Regensburg, Germany, at the High School for Catholic Music.
Czech mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kožená is renowned for her searching musicality and she doesn't disappoint here. She seems to gravitate towards two voices: the bright, noble, almost soprano sound she harnesses when she sings Bach, and the dark operatic mezzo colours she creates in Bizet and Verdi.
The album falls into two sections, at first brooding and thoughtful, especially with the inclusion of the Wolf songs 'Karwoche' and 'Mühvoll komm ich und beladen', with their pungent, left-field harmonies. Kožená is passionate and striking in Ravel's 'Kaddisch', a Jewish prayer sung in Aramaic, and she revels in the desperate drama of Purcell's almost operatic cantata The Blessed Virgin's Expostulation.
Then it feels like light is suddenly pouring into the church windows, with more Bach, arrangements of well-known Schubert songs and more Wolf, this time at his most transparent and melodic. An unusual but musically varied and very enjoyable album.
© Emma Baker