Elisabeth von Magnus, Giving Mozart Her Best

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Mezzo-soprano Elisabeth von Magnus has been a valued member of the early music movement for some years now. Her seasoned way of phrasing 18th-century art songs -- judiciously employed vibrato, vivid projection of the words, a lithe and flexible treatment of the musical line -- paid dividends throughout her Embassy Series recital of Mozart, Salieri and Haydn at the Embassy of Austria on Thursday night.

If Mozart remains more celebrated for his songwriting skills than his colleagues on the program, Salieri's affecting melodies and economy of means and Haydn's swaggering sense of drama gave considerable pleasure. Von Magnus was enthralling in Haydn's emotionally fraught solo cantata "Ariadne auf Naxos," showing a girlish fragility as Ariadne awakens, singing with a creamy tone when pining for the absent lover and practically shouting recriminatory high notes when she discovers her betrayal.

Her Mozart was even better (buoyed by pianist Markus Vorzellner's witty, cozily affectionate work at the Bosendorfer). She offered a melting rendition of "Abendempfindung," a wistfully nostalgic "Die Verschweigung" and a deliciously free-form "Die Alte," in which the elderly protagonist was limned in swooping phrasing and moments of speech-song that brought Kurt Weill's cabaret songs to mind.

But how strange, in light of her committed vocal acting, that von Magnus carried herself physically with all the restrained politesse of a socialite reading the results of a silent auction! No matter -- her interpretations etched themselves into the memory.

-- Joe Banno

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