NO-ONE can accuse mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená and her rock-solid Israeli accompanist Yefim Bronfman of selling the traditional line to Saturday’s Usher Hall audience. Instead they delivered an intriguing set of songs by Musorgsky, Shostakovich, Ravel, Rachmaninov and BartÃ³k, none of which were particularly well-known.
What linked them was a sense of the picturesque, whether literally in terms of the piquant animal sketches of Ravel’s Histoires naturelles; whimsically in the biting irony of Shostakovich’s Satires (Pictures of the Past); sensitively in the rapt imagery of Rachmaninov’s Six Songs Op 38; or through charismatic eccentricity in the raw-edged nationalist traits that bring such folk-fired sensations as Bartok’s Village Scenes and Musorgsky’s impetuous Nursery Songs alive.
In every one of these, Kozená’s ability to capture the essence of the music and communicate it intimately in such a large space was remarkable.
There’s a wild side to her voice that suits the theatrical (think of last year’s passionately animated early music recital), and that’s what held our attention and made this brave programme work.
In lesser hands – and I include Bronfman’s impeccable artistry at the piano – it could so easily have seemed far less varied.