Stunning Mezzo-Soprano

In an era when major-label debuts often deal exclusively with opera standards, the arrival of mezzo-soprano Magdalena Kozená is a breath of wondrous fresh air.

In focusing on the composers of her native Czech Republic, Kozená bypasses the traditional opera arias and works to elevate a section of the vocal repertoire unfairly neglected. Here, she sings works by Antonín Dvorák, Bohuslav Martinu and Leos Janácek, exhibiting a rich, full voice that sounds well beyond her 27 years.

The collection begins with the Dvorák Love Songs, the highlight being the final "Oh, dear matchless soul" (RealAudio excerpt). Kozená tiptoes through the sections with precision, always keeping dynamic markings in context.

The album continues with the world premiere recording of Martinu's Songs for a Friend of My Country (RealAudio excerpt), from 1940. The songs exhibit Martinu's adherence to the tonal tradition, and Kozená fares well with them.

The collection of songs from Janácek, Moravian Folk Poetry in Song, is by far the most forward-looking of this collection. The quick-spirited Constancy flows without thought into the sparse Parting (RealAudio excerpt). The album concludes with Dvorák's Goodnight My Darling opus 73.

Kozená's fullness can reach to excess at times, with her fast vibrato having a tendency to interfere with the direction of phrases. However, this remains an excellent survey of Czech composers.