Magdalena Kozena should be in shock. It's no small event for a singer to make a solo album with the Berliners. In addition to this disc, she's taking the title role in Bizet's Carmen in Rattle's upcoming release, also with the Berliners. She's obviously won a place of high esteem, even from those other than her husband. But her accomplishment brings with it higher expectations. Does her singing contain enough individuality to demand attention?
Kozena certainly has a distinctive voice, if not as recognizable as some of the past greats. She has a rich, creamy sound that is welcome in these lyrical songs. Starting off with Dvorak's Biblical Songs, we find ourselves in a world of ecstasy. While her voice isn't as powerful as some of the old greats, she adopts a wide palate of color. Throughout Dvorak's changing moods, she is always heartfelt, often dripping with melancholy. But there's not much intensity. Rattle conducts with effortless control; we're in a world abounding with lovely sounds. My complaint is that there isn't enough passion.
Rattle has always had a natural gift with impressionistic music, so the prospect of hearing songs from Ravel's Shéhérazade is exciting. From the very opening, we realize that we'll be able to witness powerful musicians playing with poise. We're in a different world than the Dvorak, but Kozena retains her gracefulness. She and Rattle blend perfectly, achieving moments of sensuous rapture. Both of them have the flexibility essential for this music. Perhaps the temperature is too cool, but for me, this is the highlight of the disc.
In the Ruckert Leider, Kozena isn't as grand as Christa Ludwig with Karajan. I miss the older pairing's noble dignity. Instead we experience a dreamy, hazy approach. Beauty abounds, but I wish for more drama. Certainly we experience many touching moments. Rattle finds many hidden nuances in the score, with the Berliners' playing as wondrous as one would expect. The problem is that there's Ludwig/Karajan to compete with, so while this new version has its merits, it doesn't surpass the classic account. If our musicians could have given more soul, I would be more sympathetic.
How should we rate musicians who go for complete beauty but are short on drama? I'm not sure how to answer the question, as we experience wonderful things on occasion. Certainly there's potential for enjoyment. I do wish that such stellar musicians could have gone beyond the comfort of blissful sound, though.
[This is a revised version of my review, my original being more positive.]