Only a few years since emerging as a notable singer, mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená hasn't stopped enchanting her audience. It is, after all, a rare pleasure to experience this unique voice with its warm and elegant timbre. Some of its aspects are apparent in her preceding recital, an unusual–and unusually beautiful program of Czech love songs. With this account of Handel's Italian Cantatas, Kozená confirms the immense scope of her gifts.
Marc Minkowski has led numerous outstanding Handel recordings, but he's up against stiff competition in Messiah. There are plenty of outstanding ones to suit all tastes, from Colin Davis's traditional performance on Philips to those of early-music specialists such as Hogwood, Suzuki, Christophers, and Pinnock. Minkowski is wildly original, and his version is unlike any other; it will intrigue some and anger many.
Jean-Joseph Cassanéa de Mondonville, violinist of the royal chapel and just a bit younger than Rameau, is one of those French composers of the late Baroque generally relegated to the summary paragraph in historical surveys. His music is not terribly common on recordings, and the Brilliant label's resurrection of this late-'90s recording on Archiv, despite dreadful sound, is welcome.
The pastoral tragedy Acis et Galatée was Lully's last finished work, a three-act extravaganza complete with an opening Prologue, a closing Passacaglia, and assorted dances interspersed throughout. In the right performance, it is at once an inspiring work, a relaxing work, and even an entertaining work and this performance by the Choeurs des Musiciens du Louvre led by Marc Minkowski is surely the right performance.
Under the direction of the principal conductor and artistic director of the Salzburg Mozart Week, Mark Minkowski, the Musiciens du Louvre perform on two of Mozart’s original instruments. Mozart’s Violin Concerto and his Piano Concerto in A major are played on instruments that were once in the composer’s possession. Thibault Noally plays the Violin Concerto on a violin from the workshop of Pietro Antonio Dalla Costa and “conjures up Romantic brilliance from the well maintained instrument”, then Francesco Corti brings Mozart’s fortepiano to life again, thereby spreading “collective Mozart happiness all round” (Salzburger Nachrichten).
Handels operas are now so thoroughly a part of modern musical life that you might think every major opera house welcomes them. But until November 2010, when it introduced an absorbing new production of Alcina, the Vienna Staatsoper resisted them, not having done a Baroque opera since Monteverdis Poppea in the 1960s. The present production boasted an all-star cast of Baroque specialists, a former director of the Royal Shakespeare Company Adrian Noble, the highly-acclaimed conductor Marc Minkowski and his Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble in the pit. Adrian Noble places his Alcina into a framework which begins in the magnificent ballroom of the Devonshire-House in London Piccadilly. The legendary Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, stages a play in which she is acting together with her friends, a stage on the stage. Alcina is a great musical experience geared to the Baroque curiosity. Marc Minkowski revives Handels music in an outstanding way.
Ariodante is one of Handel's most consistently fine operas. Yes, yes, there are whole strings of da capo arias, but they are so dramatically apt and melodically interesting that things never get tiresome. Harmonia Mundi recently released a fine recording of this opera (conducted by Nicholas McGegan and starring "La Divina" Lorraine Hunt), yet this is even better. Anne Sofie Von Otter has, in recent years, sometimes oversung in Baroque music, but her tone here is ideal–heroic and powerful yet pure… There's not a weak link in the cast, and Mark Minkowski's conducting is consistently exciting. There is no better recording of a Handel opera out there. –Matthew Westphal
There are four DVD of Entfuhrung with Malin Hartelius. In two she is Blonde, recorded in 1991 and 1997. She is Constanza here, recorded in 2004. In addition there is a Region 2 DVD from Zurich recorded in 2003 which I have not heard, other than a clip on line. This latest 2004 DVD is probably the best one as the Zurich one was conducted by an assistant conductor…Amazon.com
Cecilia Bartoli's new CD features a collection of music that could not be heard in her native Rome at the start of the 18th century due to Papal censorship. Theaters, the Church felt, were places of evil and corruption and operas led people to immorality. But some music-loving senior members of the priesthood asked composers to write oratorios and cantatas–indeed, operas without staging, essentially–for their own private entertainment. Call it what you will, the music is sensational–by turns virtuosic, gentle, and playful–and always expressive: just right, it seems, for Cecilia Bartoli's temperament. The opening aria on the CD, a call for peace in the name of Jesus, is, in fact, a dazzling martial air with trumpets blaring and the voice going through an amazing array of coloratura fireworks. It shows Bartoli at her most aggressive. The listener is practically hurled back from the speakers when she begins, with rapid-fire runs and trills and cascades of notes, all perfectly in place. Showy arias are offset by several tender ones ("Lascia la spina" from Handel's Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno returns in the composer's Rinaldo, four years later, as the now-famous "Lascia ch'io pianga"), and Bartoli exhibits again, her many, many levels of pianissimo and sensitive phrasing. Marc Minkowski and his Musiciens are just right for this repertoire and back Bartoli up superbly. This is a fascinating project, rivetingly performed and presented.–Robert Levine