Saturday, February 25, 2012

REVIEW: Karita Mattila in Recital

Cultural Centre Concert Hall, Thursday February 16

So this is a first in my blog, I have a guest reviewer and I do hope that it is not my last one! I was not able to go to the recital because work requires me to.... work... Mr. Dominic Sargent was kind enough to not only buy my ticket, but also provide a review :-)


Aphrodite Calling

If only that mobile phone had gone off in sympathy with the music, with its drama, its volume, reverberating or resonating to those words: ’Adonis...Adonis!’ Perhaps Aphrodite was on the other end of the line. For at the climax of Strauss’ terrifying setting of Heine’s poem, the Frühlingsfeier, Karita Mattila belted, no, yelled, no, there’s no word to describe that horrifying, blood-curdling shriek, the sound a throat might make before tearing itself from its neck to fall writhing on the ground - ‘Adonis... Adonis.’

But the fact is that this was from beginning to end an extraordinary concert, even if it was given to the noisiest, rudest, most inattentive audience I have sat amongst. Mattila was bigger and louder than the phone, and that goes not just for her voice. She looked spectacular; blond hair blown upwards and back in a diva-coiff above her head, her glance darting from balcony to stalls to organ loft, as she swept onto the stage in a silver dress with a grey stole for Berg’s Sieben Frühe Lieder and a set of four well-known Brahms songs, changing in the intermission into a black dress with a band of glittering sequins curling around her elegant figure. Svelt, even elfin, she looked around her like a little girl - but a little girl able to reach the stars with her voice.

The only false note - or notes - were struck by the pianist, Ville Matvejeff, in a romantic rendering of Brahms’ Meine Liebe ist grün, indulging in ‘musical’ rubato, the sort of thing that says ‘talent’ rather than ‘insight’. Brahms’ word-painting erased, the bees in the lilac bush, quick syncopated thirds in the middle of the texture, buzzed off to find their nectar elsewhere. There was a slight teeter, too, in the deceptively tricky climax of ‘Von ewiger Liebe’, the unravelling of the lover’s despair in the gently rocking lullaby of his beloved’s reassurance.

But Matvejeff played Debussy and Strauss marvellously. Strauss wrote extremely difficult piano parts for these big dramatic songs, and they do not always ‘speak’. But with a supreme artist like Mattila, who sports a big sound, there were never any balance problems. On the contrary, the piano was sometimes overwhelmed, which is at it should be. Mattila needs no protection from Messrs Steinway and Son.

Which led me to me consider the many individuals who contribute to a pinnacle of an evening like this: poet, composer, piano-builder, technician, pianist and singer, teacher, patron, dressmaker and so on, and, of course, architect, builder, festival manager and promoter. Perhaps a crowd as noisy and inattentive as our Hong Kong audience might be reminded of this from time to time.

Music is not an international language. It does not have words, syntax, grammar, or specific meanings, yet nobody could have mistaken the anguish in the roar - on the edge of vocal destruction - that Mattila let out before falling to her knees in genuine despair at the end of that Strauss setting, the sequined bands on her dress coiling around her like a snake. Heine’s well-behaved rhymes and gentle rhythms disguise a tumultuous horde of maenads coursing across blood-stained hills. Strauss’ song goes for the literal interpretation. But you won’t often hear a singer at the height of her powers sacrifice, for a moment at least, everything to make her point. I don’t expect to hear it again soon. In fact I don’t hope to, for it is only the most skillful technician who can surface from such drama unscathed.

In her encore, a song of dedication and love, Zueignung, Mattila had audibly to slim down her voice, and steer her vowels back to the straight and narrow. That, too, was unforgettable.

Dominic Sargent the bracadabra

Karita Mattila in Recital
with pianist Ville Matvejeff

16 February 2012 8pm
Concert Hall, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Alban Berg
7 Frühe Lieder:
Nacht, Schilflied, Die Nachtigall, Traumgekrönt, Im Zimmer, Liebesode, Sommertage

Johannes Brahms
Meine Liebe ist grün, op 63 no 5
Wiegenlied op 49 no 4
Von ewiger Liebe op 43 no 1
Vergebliches Ständchen op 84 no4


Claude Debussy
Harmonie du soir
Le jet d’eau
Richard Strauss
Der Stern op 69 no 1
Wiegenlied op 41 no 1
Allerseelen op 10 no 8
Frühlingsfeier op 56 no 5

Encore: Richard Strauss Zueignung op 10 no 1

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