Karita Mattila at the Wigmore Hall

What with one thing and another, I never got around to committing thoughts to print about the Wigmore Hall recital given by Karita Mattila, with Martin Katz on the piano.

Coinciding with the opening of the Royal Opera House season on 10 September, the Wigmore Hall opened their 110th season.  I’m not a very regular attender at the Wigmore Hall, tending to push most of my opera pounds in the direction of Covent Garden, but the chance of hearing Mattila in a relatively intimate venue was not one to pass up.  With the announcement of her withdrawal from Tosca (which she was due to sing next summer in London), I’m glad that we shelled out the £50 for what turned out to be an enjoyable, if brief, recital which had some quite wonderful moments.  The atmosphere of ‘opening night’ at the Wiggy (to borrow the appellation applied by Kit & the Widow) was also quite interesting.

The programme was Berg, Brahms, Sibelius (naturally) and Strauss.  A request for ‘our understanding’ was half-made beforehand: Mattila had a cold.   I say ‘half-made’ because the announcer appeared not to be able to decide whether this was a definite request or not: she would ‘sing wonderfully’ anyway.  His reticence was borne out, since although her breathing was audibly ‘heavy’ at times, she still sounded to be in quite good voice.  Some of the faster songs risked getting away from her and, to keep up, some of the clarity of runs was sacrificed.  On the whole, though there were certainly compensations.

I won’t go into the various items in turn, but Mattila’s style certainly suited the more dramatic items.  Brahms’s Vergebliches Ständchen, for example, with its two protagonists brought increased variation of presentation, and the dramatic writing of his Von ewiger Liebe also provided an opportunity for Mattila to ‘let go’.  Of the Sibelius numbers, Flickan kom ifrån sin älsklings möte was the most engaging for similar reasons.  I know that there are those who like their lieder recitals more contained: I’m afraid I can’t get excited about a whole evening of genteel polite song.  I like a bit of oomph.

That brings us to the Strauss.  There were, indeed, some moments of quite magical repose in Wiegenlied, but this was well and truly blown away by a song I had not previously heard: Frühlingsfeier. Completed in 1906, a year after Salome and three years before Elektra, the song bore all the hallmarks of the soundworld of those two mighty works.  In a matter of minutes, the story of the search for – and discovery of – the body of Adonis was told, culminating in repeated, full force calls of ‘Adonis! Adonis!’.  It was quite wonderful, but probably won’t win any points for subtlety.

As an encore – against her self-confessed better judgment – we had (yes, you guessed it!) Zueignung.  Is there a soprano that doesn’t have Zueignung permanently up their sleeve for the encore?  Perhaps it’s getting to the point where it needs a bit of a rest?  Renée Fleming’s performance of it as part of the Last Night of the Proms programme was considerably soupier and more indulgent than Mattila’s slower, but more straightforward take.  And that’s even allowing for the fact that, in this instance, the repeated ‘Habe Dank!’ was offered in dedication to the audience and the Hall itself.  Slightly over-indulgent, but that was the tone of the whole evening from the introductory speech onwards, right through to the wild audience reaction to the singer.  The Wigmore Hall sort of demands it.  And in that context, any reservations about parts were more than compensated by the whole.  It felt a good launching point for my 2010/11 year…

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