MARTINŮ: Magic Nights: 3 Songs to Chinese Texts. DUPARC: L’Invitation au Voyage. La vie antérieure. Phidylé. Chanson triste. RAVEL: 5 Mélodies Populaires Greques. Shéhérazade. SZYMANOWSKI: Penthesilea / Kateřina Kněžíková, sop; Janáček Philharmonic Ostrava; Robert Jindra, cond / Supraphon SU 4296-2
Czech soprano Kateřina Kněžíková, in addition to being drop-dead gorgeous, has an interesting voice which she uses well in this unusual recital of mostly French art songs with orchestra. The outliers, of course, are the pieces by Martinů and Szymanowski, although the latter was strongly influenced by the modern French school of Debussy-Ravel-Koechlin.
Like the majority of Slavic sopranos, Kněžíková has a noticeable flutter in her voice and a somewhat edgy high range. This can be wearing to Western ears used to smoother tonal emission, but at least her voice is consistent in sound from first to last. The odd thing about this recital is that, although both singer and orchestra have reverb around them, they seem to have been recorded discretely of each other. Kněžíková’s voice has one kind of reverb, a bit tight, whereas the orchestra is absolutely swimming in echo.
Although Kněžíková sings these sings with fine musicality, I didn’t feel that she interpreted the words very much. This is too often a detriment in many modern singers who do all of their acting visually onstage and nothing, or next to nothing, with the voice itself. Thus the discerning listener will hear none of Janet Baker’s subtleties in Duparc, Karina Gauvin’s interpretations of the 5 Mélodies Populaires Greques or of Jennie Tourel or Susan Graham in Shéhérazade, and this is a pity, for these songs cry out of this sort of treatment.
So where we stand is with a serious but underdeveloped artist who may or may not improve her voice and fulfill her potential as an interpreter. I give her points for at least recording an interesting program, but remember, Kateřina, you’re singing words and words have meaning.
—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley
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